Our Change, By ‘Us’

First publication: Civil and Military Gazette, 21` August 1887


Sussex Scrapbooks 28/3, p.137

In this article Kipling explains to the readership of the CMG the paper’s new appearance (see Introduction pp. 10—11). The sub¬ject, he at once concedes, is not one of general interest, but he manages to give a vivid sketch of the conditions under which the paper operated. In his autobiography Kipling remembered the hard work that the change required.

In the joyous reign of Kay Robinson, my second Chief, our paper changed its shape and type. This took up for a week or so all hours of the twenty-four and cost me a breakdown due to lack of sleep. But we two were proud of the results

(Something of Myself, p. 66).

The ‘Miss Cass’ referred to at the end of the article was a respectable young working woman who had been wrongly arrested late in July as a prostitute in Regent Street; the affair created a minor political crisis.


The Article

It is possible that, to-day, a few of our readers may notice certain alterations in this paper; may find that the advertisements begin at the wrong end; that the leading article has withdrawn itself to other pages, and that the telegrams flower aggressively in a new bed. To ninety-nine men out of a hundred, these things will be of the smallest possible importance. The Hundredth may wonder for a moment how they came about. It is to the Hundredth Man that we would tell our tale of trouble and sorrow — of sin and woe.

This Change is the outcome of a striving after perfection, and, from our point of view, the most important event that has taken place in the Empire during the last twenty-four hours. Several scores of intelligent native persons are of the same
opinion; but their utterances do not reach the outer air. The Change had been impending for many weeks, and came at last in the form of two truck-loads of type of the newest. That is to say, the second truck full of the subtler and more frivolous varieties of print, wholly useless for the gravity of a daily journal, came first, while the other which contained the necessaries of the new issue disported itself in the Indus Valley. Not long ago, a journal entitled the Rocky Mountain Cyclone essayed a change similar to ours. There are but few trains in the Rocky Mountains, and the mules died on the way to the Cyclone’s door, before all the c’s, f’s and g’s had been delivered. Then the Syklone akquainted its konstituents with the phakt in languadje more pekuliar than prophessional, and phor several weeks phoudijht with phate, as it were with krippled plumadje. Having this awful example in our minds, the agony caused by the missing truck was distracting; doubly distracting, inasmuch as a specious air of unconcern had to be preserved towards an unsympathetic public, in the daily issues. After continous telegraphing, the missing waggon was discovered, hidden in a siding where it sat down to rest, and conveyed safely to this place.

Followed, next, a weary period of consultation as to the best use to be made of the contents of the trucks. The secrets of that sederunt (discussion) it would be unprofitable to reveal. Imagine half a dozen persons all playing the Fifteen-Thirty-two game on one board, and all wanting to play it their own way. Above the clamour of conflicting opinions and the rustle of sample sheets turned out to see ‘how they would look’, rose the still small voice of the Punjabi compositor, mourning that he had been ousted from the paths of customs and use. Semi-nude and laborious, the Punjabi was, after all the last Court of Appeal and the stumbling-block in the path of evolution; for the instincts of the Oriental lead him, if unchecked, to revert to the primitive type — in this particular case, the bleared and blackened pieces of metal that he had battered for so long.

Finally, after enormous discussion, all to please a public which really does not care much how a paper looks so long as it is moderately legible and contains criticism of Hill theatricals, the New Paper evolved itself ‘from the title page to closing line’ and the contending artists were unanimous that everything might have been ten times better had their own unmodified suggestions been carried out. Then the real difficulties opened themselves. They were not so much pitched battles with the
conservative compositors, as the harassing duties of an underhanded Preventive Service. The Old Paper stopped the day before the New began, but the interval between the death of one and the birth of the next could be measured in minutes.
The Hundredth Man will understand that there was no time to remove the old type; new and old lay within a short arm’s length of each other, and, between the two, stood the Patient East — composing-stick in his fist and bewilderment in his heart. The East did not intentionally and of evil ingrained weave into the new and shining metal, streaks of the dirty black stuff he should have quitted for ever. On the contrary, he did his best, but he became mixed. The accustomed hand strayed to the well-known trays, the habituated eye turned to the recognised print, and, gently and wearily, the Impatient West caught the East by the wrist, and, as when a mother forces her child to loose its hold of the broken medicine-glass, the old type fell from the unwilling fingers.

The delay of the trucks was sad and wearing, the conference on the future form of the paper, profanely called the ‘puzzle- party’, was lively and more wearing; but saddest, liveliest and most wearing of all was the watch over the compositor to prevent an unseemly mixture of letters and the consequent scorn of the public which does not care how its newspaper looks, so long as it comes forth regularly and contains sufficient names of the public’s acquaintances. It was not the compositor’s fault. He explained that things were otherwise in the days when he first constructed newspapers, and he was a poor man. Besides which, it would be much better to work these changes tomorrow, and, if little accidents had occurred, it was an incontrovertible fact that he was a poor man; and so on, after the fashion of Patience.
Lastly, as night sank upon the earth, the work was completed, and those who for years past had held the paper as part of themselves, on whose heart the three thousand two hundred and eighty-two impressions, with all their faults, had been stamped, gazed blankly on a new and strange Thing — their child and not their child — an alien in painfully clean garb. But, as they looked for the last time ere sending the New Paper into the world, there twinkled in the unfamiliar waste, as a friend’s face shines in foreign land, a star — a fixed undying star. Which was the Inevitable Misprint. The compositor saw it also, but it was too late to make a correction. ‘Without doubt,’ said the compositor in sober glee, ‘a fault has befallen.’ And his mind was at peace again. Papers may ‘shift and bedeck and bedrape them In pica, burgeois and antique’ as Swinburne sings, but the Misprint is eternal.

With these cheerful reflections, the old type was put into the melting-pot, and the New Issue went out to catch the eye of the public which has not the faintest interest in the appearance of a paper so long as the all the ‘leaves’ are gazetted, and it knows who Miss Cass is.