[March 7th 2020]
Published in the Civil and Military Gazette (CMG), 29 September 1884, with the subtitle 'A Story without a Moral’ and signature "E. M." Pinney writes of this signature:
The initials stand for "Esau Mull", a pseudonym that RK had used from May, 1884. It is the most frequently-used of his many pseudonyms, for he typically used it to sign his many "Week in Lahore" columns. A 'Mull', short for 'mulligatawny', is a slang term for a Madras civil servant. 'Esau' presumably stands for 'exile'.The poem is further authenticated by its inclusion in Scrapbook 1 of Kipling's own press cuttings (in the Kipling Papers at the University of Sussex Special Collections). It was never collected by Kipling but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 257) and Pinney (p. 1734).
Rutherford notes that there were frequent reports in the Anglo-Indian press of shooting incidents involving British soldiers. On 26 September 1884, for example, the CMG carried a report of an outrage at Mooltan, in which three soldiers of the Manchester Regiment had wandered out with rifles and ammunition and shot at various Indians, killing one.
It seems that the men were mad with drink at the time….Other cases involved the murder of fellow soldiers. In 1887, in an attempt to check such incidents, the Commander-in-Chief ended the practice of requiring soldiers always to be in possession of ball cartridges. Louis Cornell (p. 83) comments:
"The Story of Tommy", which describes the crime and death of a young soldier, is indeed a narrative, but it deals superficially with a way of life in which an older Kipling was to find the materials for comedy and tragedy. Although the poem distantly foreshadows the soldier stories and Barrack-Room Ballads, Kipling seems to have judged it an unsuccessful experiment, for he avoided making another attempt at such a subject for three years.Brian Harris (p. 108) also notes that this poem was not highly rated by its author, but judges that its merits are sometimes overlooked:
The Story of Tommy is a young man's poem which showed signs of promise, for example in its repetition of the significant phrase 'Tommy aged twenty' and the interposition at a critical moment of the incongruous, 'Late night owls are chuckling.'Jan Montefiore agrees with Harris:
I think he’s right, though I also think the way the unfortunate punkah-wallah is treated as a mere pawn in the story is heartlessly racist; lots of sympathy for Tommy, none for the victim, who might well have dependents.Also: "Black Jack" (1888) in Soldiers Three, and "Danny Deever" (1890).
Zor se kencho you soor Pull hard, you pig!
Kencho you budzart, kench pull, you blackguard, pull.
Kipling was aware from his talks with private soldiers of how terrifying the nights could be in the hot season. Witness the Soldiers Three in "With the Main Guard" (1888) on a June night:
‘The worrst night that iver I remimber. Eyah! Is all Hell loose this tide?’said Mulvaney. A puff of burning wind lashed through the wicket-gate like a wave of the sea, and Ortheris swore.[Verse 4]
pickets in this case, rifle cartridges.
padris Usually padres. Regimental chaplains, priests.
©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved