Music for the Middle-aged


Sussex Scrapbooks 28/1, p.1

This article is an overflow from Kipling’s work on the collection of verse parodies called Echoes, written in collaboration with his sister Trix and published in August 1884. Like the parlour songs in ‘Music for the Middle-Aged’ the verses in Echoes adapt familiar English and American poets to Indian [T.P.]

The Article

17 June 1884. (To the Editor)

Your recent protest against the drawing-room music of the present should be writ large to my thinking, over every drawingroom from Peshawur to Cape Comorin. There is neither wit, wisdom, nor appositeness in the post-prandial hurlements of Anglo-India as at present inflicted. We, who have been burnt with the fervour of an Indian sun, and sodden with a score of rainy seasons, till Love has departed with our livers, and cynicism, hand in hand with sickness, invaded our systems, must, perforce, sing and be sung to of sentimentalities which had their growth primarily among the daisies and clover of English fields, but which the land of ferashes and fever refuses to recognise. We have, ostrich-like, buried our heads in the mud of ‘Twickenham Ferry’, we have crossed and recrossed the ‘Bridge of Midnight’, dragging with us at each passage a band of patiently applausive friends; we have called poor ‘Maud’ a thousand times into the dusty desolation of an Indian compound, woefully (I had almost written wilfully) ignorant, that Ferry, Bridge, and Maiden were grotesquely out of place here. In the name of common sense, let the mothers of our families — they are, as you say, the greatest offenders — sing songs that may be ‘understanded of the people’, ditties dealing with the conditions under which we of the East live and work. Here is my scheme, imperfect as yet, for the regeneration of after-dinner music.

I purpose to publish, by subscription, a series of Songs entitled ‘Music for the Middle-aged’, to be followed if life permits by ‘Songs of the Sixties’. I would not, at first, turn out mature warblers too suddenly from the beaten paths wherein they are wont to travel. The Form of their songs shall be respected, but the Spirit altered, and I flatter myself improved in the altering, to perfect harmony with our every-day life.

Take for instance Tennyson’s ‘Maud’ referred to above. Give her the true local colour, and behold the result: —

Come under the Punkah, Maud,
For the air is devoid of ozone,
And the scent of the brick-kilns is wafted abroad,
And the germs of infection are blown,
Are daily dispersed o’er our bed and our board,
From the huts that our nauker-log own.

Here is something which we can all understand and appreciate. ‘Twickenham Ferry ’ again, adapted to Eastern exigencies, would obviously run: —

Juldee Ao! Juldee Ao! To the Simla dak gharri,
The fever’s about, and the glass going up
So send in for leave, and no longer we’ll tarry,
And by eight in the even at Simla we’ll sup.
Juldee Ao! (ad lib.)

No one will be prepared to deny that the open vowels of this refrain are infinitely preferable to the senseless ‘Yo-ho-o’ of the original, inasmuch as they convey a meaning patent to any griffin who has been in the country twenty minutes.
Once more, I submit that all the pathos of parting, as experienced by the oldest members of the community, is compressed into the following lines: —

In the spring time, Oh my husband,
When the heat is rising fast,
When the coolie softly pulling Puddles but a burning blast,
When the skies are lurid yellow,
When our rooms are ‘ninety-three’,
It were best to leave you, ducky, —
Rough on you, but best for me.

When the world comes to admit — as it will — the excellence of my system, I make no doubt that there will arise a race of virile poets, owning no allegiance to, drawing no inspiration from, Western thought, who will weave for the drawing-room of the future, songs as distinctly sui generis as an overland trunk or a solah topee and breathing in every word the luxuriant imagery and abundant wealth of expression peculiar to the East.

To ensure this, however, our children must be trained from their cradles to discard the nursery rhymes of an effete civilization — thus only can they grasp the tremendous potentialities which lie before them. I for one, hope to hear the nursing mothers of Anglo-India instructing their babes in infantine lispings such as these: —

I had a little husband Who gave me all his pay.
I left him for Mussoorie A hundred miles away.
I dragged my little husband’s name Through heaps of social mire,
And joined him in November As good as you’d desire.

The words are relatively of little importance, so long as the spirit of the poesy is national and unfettered.

Jacob Cavendish, M.A. (Civil and Military Gazette)