Kipling: lost parodist

by Harry Ricketts

Delivered to a meeting of the Kipling Society on July 10th 2002, and reprinted in KJ 305 for March 2005 with full references. where it can be found in our Kipling Journal archive.

I‘m going to talk this evening about a largely forgotten aspect of Kipling – his work as a parodist. This is a potentially huge subject, which could include, to give just a few obvious examples from his fiction, the satirising of Liberal cant in “The Mother Hive” and “Little Foxes”, the send-up of Welldonian imperialism in “The Flag of their Country”, the more affectionate take-off of King’s schoolmaster pedantry in “Regulus”, or, more complicatedly, that peculiar Keatsian parody-pastiche ” ‘Wireless’ “. However, I’m going to confine myself for now to Kipling’s poetic parodies in Echoes (1884) and “The Muse among the Motors” (1904-1929).

And I am, in fact, going to start in 1904, though not with “The Muse among the Motors”. Instead, I’m going to begin with A Parody Anthology, a wide-ranging collection of verse parodies edited that year by the American parodist and crime writer Carolyn Wells. Kipling,thirty-eight and the most famous writer in the world, is significantly represented in Wells’s anthology as both parodist and parodee. As parodist, he notches up a very respectable seven entries. There are two pieces guying Robert Browning (“The Flight of the Bucket” and “The Jam-Pot”) and two guying Swinburne (“The Maid of the Meer- schaum” and “Quaeritur”). Wordsworth scores one (“Jane Smith”), as does Heine (“Commonplaces”), and William Morris (“Estunt the Griff”). It is true that seven is only half Bayard Taylor’s total and two behind Phoebe Cary’s, but it puts Kipling equal with Charles Calver- ley and only one short of Lewis Carroll. Seven asserts Kipling’s right to be fun, to play with the best.

Of those seven parodies, all are early efforts and all except “The Jam-Pot” come from Echoes, the collaborative volume that the eight-een-year-old Kipling composed in Lahore in 1884 with his fifteen- year-old sister Trix. Trix, recently reunited with the Family Square  after years in England, was thought too young to dine out; so, when their parents had social engagements, Kipling would keep his sistercompany. Like other lively, well-read, young Victorians, they enjoyed, and were adept at, literary games. One evening it might be Shakespeare, with only quotations from the Bard allowed and no checking references till the following morning. Or they might pass the time spoofing

their favourite English and American poets, a pastime which led in the late summer or autumn of 1884 to the anonymous publication of Echoes, By Two Writers. The title was a nod to Bayard Taylor, much of whose The Echo Club, and Other Literary Diversions (1876) Kipling knew by heart and which he later claimed spurred him ‘to the joyful labour of writing parodies on every poet between Wordsworth and Whitman’.1 This is the collection, incidentally, from which Caro- lyn Wells drew the fourteen Taylor entries for her anthology.

In my biography of Kipling, I suggested that it was no coincidence that his first real book should have grown out of collaborative play.

During the miserable Southsea years, [Rud] had invented elabor- ate rituals that involved secret knowledge and private codes.These games, played either on his own or with his sister, had been both a survival tactic and a way of creating a sense of selfsame spirit, rekindled in happier circumstances, now found new expression. It is easy to see why Rud found literary parody so appealing. An outsider longing to be an insider, he could show that he at least knew his way around ‘the realms of gold’, however difficult he might sometimes find the worlds of India and Anglo-India. Besides, away from the daily drudgery of the CMG, here was an area where he could safely show off his wit and ingenuity . . . For the most part, bravado was the keynote, the sense of a young writer gleefully picking out figures in the poetic landscape and showing how neatly they could be travestied.

I still endorse that overview, but I should like to amplify it just a little. I should like you to imagine, for instance, the high spirits with which the teenage brother and sister read out to each other their latest efforts, trying only half-successfully to keep a straight face.Imagine Kipling reading for the first time “The Flight of the Buck-et”, his Browning version of “Jack and Jill”. Here are the opening lines:

Pre-admonisheth THE WRITER:
H’m, for a subject it is well enough!
Who wrote ‘Sordello’ finds no subject tough.

Well, Jack and Jill—God knows the life they led
(The poet never told us, more’s the pity)
Pent up in some damp kennel of their own,
Beneath the hillside; but it once befell
That Jack or Jill, niece, cousin, uncle, aunt
(Some one of all the brood) would wash or scour—
Rinse out a cess-pit, swab the kennel floor,
And water (liquor vitae, Lawson calls,
But I—I hold by whisky. Never mind;
I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, sir,
And missed the scrap o’ blue at buttonhole—)
Spring water was the needful at the time,
So they must climb the hill for’t. Well and good.

How neatly these lines send up some of Robert Browning’s more distinctive literary mannerisms. There is the abrupt, colloquial opening (‘Well, Jack and Jill—’); the penchant for extended parentheses (‘The poet never told us, more’s the pity’); and the sudden inclusion of a silent and previously unsuspected listener (‘I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, sir,/And missed the scrap o’ blue at buttonhole—’). As Andrew Rutherford points out in his invaluable Early Verse by Rudyard Kipling 1879-1889, Kipling also glancingly alludes to particular Browning poems: the title “The Flight of the Bucket” bathetically recalls “The Flight of the Duchess”; the little preamble recalls the opening of “The Heretic’s Tragedy”, and the final ‘gr-r-r-r!’ at the end recalls the conclusion of “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister”.

Or imagine Kipling – or should that really be Trix? – gleefully reciting “Jane Smith”, which so laconically parodies Wordsworth’s “Alice Fell”. (Personally, I am with those who think that “Jane Smith” was probably a joint effort, a genuine collaboration.) Here is
the poem in full:

I journeyed, on a winter’s day,
   Across the lonely wold;
No bird did sing upon the spray,
   And it was very cold.

I had a coach with horses four
   Three white (though one was black),
And on they went the common o’er,
   Nor swiftness did they lack.

A little girl ran by the side,
   And she was pinched and thin.
‘Oh, please, sir, do give me a ride!
   I’m fetching mother’s gin.’

‘Enter my coach, sweet child,’ said I;
   ‘For you shall ride with me,
And I will get you your supply
   Of mother’s eau-de-vie.’

The publican was stern and cold,
   And said: ‘Her mother’s score
Is writ, as you shall soon behold,
   Behind the bar-room door! ‘

I blotted out the score with tears,
   And paid the money down,
And took the maid of thirteen years
   Back to her mother’s town;

And though the past with surges wild
   Fond memories may sever,
The vision of that happy child
   Will leave my spirit never!

How adroitly this catches the less effective features of Wordsworth’s ballad manner: the language simple to the point of banality (‘And it was very cold’); the ludicrous literalism (‘Three white (though one was black)’); and the inert line- and rhyme-fillers (‘Nor swiftness did they lack’). Like many of the best parodies, “Jane Smith” is not just good comic mimicry; it is  lso a form of literary criticism. The nature of young Jane’s errand (” ‘fetching mother’s gin’ “) is a cheeky reminder of how improbably admirable and deserving Wordsworth always makes his poor – not a bad lot or a drunk among them – and how his children are always fountains of wise innocence, engaged in some poignant pursuit. We are reminded, too, how such encounters in Wordsworth often end on a note of self-congratulation, with the speaker indicating the depth of his own moral feelings. Here the dead-pan pun in the last line on that ultra-Wordsworthian word ‘spirit’ inevitably conjures up deliriously inappropriate associations.

Having, I hope, briefly reminded you how beautifully judged these youthful parodies can be, I should also remind you that, of the thirty-one poems in Echoes which are definitely Kipling’s about half were not, in fact, new. Some, like “His Consolation” and “Common-places”, had not originally been intended as parodies at all. (“His Consolation” is again in the manner of Robert Browning, “Common-  places” in that of Heine.) These were both written at school at West-
ward Ho! and started life as serious lyrical poems. By 1884, however, Kipling had come to see how derivative they were, and needing to fill out Echoes as a volume, he realised he could slip them in and pass them off as playful imitations. Kipling was always a great opportunist, but this particular form of literary opportunism is, I think, highly unusual – unusual both in its self-criticism and in its frugality. Not many eighteen-year-old poets are discriminating enough to turn such debits into credits, such limits into renewals – to see in past failure the opportunity for positive recycling. “Commonplaces”, remember, Wells thought good enough to include in her anthology.

As a collection of parodies, Echoes is a mixed bag: hits and misses,
gems and fakes. What is really notable, I think, is the sheer nerve and
verve of the whole performance. There is something very appealing
about the figure of Kipling – so young, so aware of his emerging
powers, so aware of how far he was from the literary London where
he longed to be – constructing these smart little darts and lobbing
them in from the side-lines. Or, to put the point more generally, parody
is always an attractive option for clever writers (young or otherwise)
who, for whatever reason, feel marginalised or undervalued; who want
to cock a snook at the established and the accepted; who want to show
off just how knowledgeable and skilful they are. If they cannot be, or
choose not to be, part of the privileged in-group, they can at least set
up their own in-group. That said, you can of course only effectively
parody those whose work you have thoroughly internalised and made
your own.

So, in Wells’s anthology, Kipling is represented as a parodist by a
respectable seven contributions. And even though one of those
(“Commonplaces”) was not originally a parody at all, and another
(“Jane Smith”) might have been a collaborative effort or even mainly
his sister’s work, that still leaves him with a very creditable five
entries – including the excellent “The Flight of the Bucket” and the
accomplished “Quaeritur”. And five, as it happens, is also the number
of entries in the anthology which feature Kipling as parodee. Of these,
four could be described as ‘chummy parody’ – the kind of parody
which nevertheless acknowledges the writer to be unquestionably sig-
nificant and secure in their literary position. Only Guy Wetmore Car-
ryl’s “A Ballad” packs much of a punch. After convincingly mimick-
ing Kipling’s cockney (and cocky) manner, his knowingness, his
rollicking rhythms and internal rhymes, “A Ballad” ends in supposed
despair at the threat that Kipling’s enormous productivity and range
pose to other contemporary poets – a final swing which is more wry
compliment than knock-out blow:

There are manners an’ manners of writin’, but ‘is is the proper


An’ it ain’t so hard to be a bard if you’ll imitate Rudyard K.;
But sea an’ shore an’ peace an’ war, an’ everything else in

view –
‘E ‘as gobbled the lot! – ‘er majesty’s poet – soldier an’ sailor,

‘E’s not content with ‘is Indian ‘ome, ‘e’s looking for regions


In another year ‘e’ll ‘ave swept ’em clear, an’ what’ll the rest

of us do?
‘E’s crowdin’ us out! — ‘er majesty’s poet— soldier an’ sailor too!5

Carryl’s is the first parody of Kipling, which holds its own with its
original. Rightly, it is still regularly reprinted. So, too, though it is not
in Wells’s anthology, is J.K. Stephen’s “To R.K. (1891)”, which, you
will remember, throws up its hands in mock-horror at the parlous state
of contemporary writing, and looks forward yearningly to ‘a season’,

When there stands a muzzled stripling,
Mute, beside a muzzled bore:
When the Rudyards cease from Kipling
And the Haggards Ride no more.6

Wells was right not to include Stephen. “To R.K. (1891)”, witty and
memorable as it is (and much admired by Kipling himself), is not
really a parody at all but excellent light verse. The lines do not try to
take off Kipling’s forms, language, or attitudes; they merely take a
nicely judged potshot at those prolific and oddly named literary con-
temporaries, Rudyard Kipling and Rider Haggard.

Other anthologists have been more lenient in their taxonomy. Ste-
phen’s lines are included in Dwight Macdonald’s Parodies: An
Anthology from Chaucer to Beerbohm and After (1961), probably the
most prestigious collection of literary parodies ever published. Carryl
is also there, as is the most brilliant and cruellest parody of Kipling
ever written: Max Beerbohm’s “P.C., X, 36” from A Christmas Gar-
land (1912), in which ‘Kipling’ is gleefully present at PC Judlip’s
arrest of Father Christmas. Beerbohm produces a virtual do-it-yourself
guide to Kipling’s less appealing literary traits: the stylistic archness
(‘a grand pow-wow between certain of the choicer sons of Adam’);
the penchant for odd names (Judlip, Slushby); the overstretched tech-
nological metaphors (‘when Judlip sighs the sound is like unto that
which issues from the vent of a Crosby boiler when the cog gauges
are at 260° F’); the figure of the excessively hero-worshipping
reporter-narrator (‘ “‘Is dooty,” said I, looking up from my note-book.
“Yes, I’ve got that.” ‘); the discomforting relish for licensed brutality
coupled with the showing off of would-be in-group slang (‘ “Frog’s-
march him!” I shrieked, dancing. “For the love of Heaven, frog’s-
march him!” ‘).7 Dwight Macdonald finds no place for Kipling as par-
odist – except for three entries (“”The Service Man””, “Big Stea-
mers”, and “”When ‘Omer Smote ‘is Bloomin’ Lyre””), in which

(unkindest cut of all) he is represented as an unintentional self-
parodist. So, not only is he included as the butt of others’ spoofs; he
is even the unwitting butt of his own.

It is true that William Zaranka allows Kipling’s “The Flight of the
Bucket” into his Brand-X Poetry: a parody anthology (1981), but this
concession is more than outweighed by the inclusion of another unin-
tentional self-parody, “Municipal”, and by the presence of the inevi-
table J.K. Stephen and Guy Wetmore Carryl. Macdonald’s and Zaran-
ka’s selections support the central claim I want to make this evening:
which is that for eighty years or so after Carolyn Wells’s anthology
Kipling the parodist became ‘lost’, and virtually invisible. He could
be made fun of, but it was unthinkable that he himself could be fun.
In fact, it was not until E.O. Parrott’s excellent collection Imitations
of Immortality (1986) that Kipling the parodist was again allowed
more space than Kipling the parodee.

Why did this happen? How did Kipling the parodist become ‘lost’
for so long? I think the answer is probably a further example of what
happened to his standing as a writer in the Edwardian period. After a
decade of unprecedented fame and critical approval, some dip in repu-
tation was almost inevitable. But what really did for Kipling, at least
in English liberal and literary circles, was his fierce espousal of the
English cause in the Boer War, the unironic fervour with which he
turned himself into a literary spokesperson for British imperial values.
Max Beerbohm’s celebrated 1904 cartoon succinctly makes the point.
Parodying Kipling’s own use of cockney, the caption reads: “Mr. Rud-
yard Kipling takes a bloomin’ day aht, on the blasted ‘eath, along with
Britannia, ‘is gurl.” The cartoon itself is witty, clever, and damning.
A diminutive Kipling frantically blows his toy trumpet, He hangs on
the arm of a large, languid-looking Britannia. The two have swopped
hats: he wears her helmet, she his bowler. She looks distinctly unim-
pressed by his pipsqueak trumpetings.

It is a neat irony that 1904 saw the appearance of both Wells’s
anthology and Beerbohm’s dismissive cartoon: Kipling, as it were,
simultaneously enshrined and debunked – though it is of course sig-
nificant that the enshrining was done by an American and the
debunking by an Englishman. An even neater irony is that 1904 also
saw the publication of Kipling’s great, though still little known, parody
sequence, “The Muse among the Motors”.

The first probable reference to the sequence that I have come across
occurs in the notes Charles Carrington made of Carrie Kipling’s diary.
Against 19 December 1901, we find the suggestive phrase ‘Motor
Verses’. Almost two years later, on 16 November 1903, there is the
categorical ‘Motor parodies’. So, those two dates seem to define the

period of initial composition. Since the first set of fourteen was pub-
lished during February 1904, Kipling was probably putting the fin-
ishing touches back in November 1903, prior to leaving for the annual
family winter holiday in South Africa. The sequence started appearing
in the Daily Mail on 5 February 1904 – the first two items being
spoofs of medieval alliterative verse and Chaucer – and the sequence
continued at regular intervals throughout February with parodies of
Ben Jonson and Donne on the 6th, Prior and Herrick on the 9th, Byron
on the 13th, Wordsworth and Praed on the 17th, Adam Lindsay
Gordon and Waldo Emerson on the 23rd, and, in a final burst, Longfel-
low, Tennyson, and Robert Browning on the 27th.

To this initial set of fourteen, Kipling, over the next twenty-five
years, added two further groups. By 1919, he had completed parodies
of Horace, Shakespeare, Milton, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Clough,
and Author Unknown (the last, a deliberate self-parody). By 1929,
there were further spoofs of ‘The Greek Anthologies’, ‘Early Chinese’,
‘Boethius as translated by Chaucer’ (though this item may date back
to 1903), Thomas Tusser, a ‘Wardour Street Border Ballad’, and
Robert Louis Stevenson. The complete sequence amounts to 26 pieces
all told. (Parrott, to his credit, prints sixteen of these in Imitations of
Immortality, and Craig Raine three in Rudyard Kipling: Selected
Poems (1992).)

As the general title suggests, the central motif which ‘steers’ “The
Muse among the Motors” is the recent invention of the motor car –
that, and Kipling’s own passion for cars, following the day in 1899
when Alfred Harmsworth came to visit him in Rottingdean in his new
motor and took him out for a spin. From then on, Kipling was hooked
and, though never himself a driver, owned a succession of cars. The
idea of organising parodies of various writers around a single subject
or motif is not in itself new; it dates back at least to Isaac Hawkins’
A Pipe of Tobacco (1736). What is strikingly original is Kipling’s
combination of subject and range: ultra-modern subject (the motor car)
and wide traditional range (‘English’ poetry through the ages). The
result is a perfect matching of two of what – forgive the irresistible
pun! – one might call his driving obsessions: modernity (particularly
modern technology) and poetry.

Why did the sequence initially appear in the Daily Mail! On the
face of it, the choice of a popular daily newspaper rather than a literary
magazine or journal seems an odd one. One reason, perhaps the main
one, was that Harmsworth, who had given him that first exhilarating
drive, was the proprietor of the Daily Mail. And it was the Daily
Mail which had run the “Absent-Minded Beggar” Fund back in 1899.

Another reason, I suspect, was that if the liberal and literary intelli-
gentsia was turning against Kipling, he himself had always felt highly
ambivalent about that world and his relationship to it. A more ‘popu-
lar’ audience no doubt had its appeal. It would be typical, too, of
Kipling to enjoy the notion of printing a highbrow spoof history of
English poetry in a reasonably lowbrow medium.

Before offering some more detailed comments about the parodies
themselves, I should like to make a couple of general observations
about the sort of games Kipling offers his reader. First, there is the
usual invitation to appreciate how, and how cleverly, a particular
parody engages with its original. Kipling in “The Muse among the
Motors” rarely parodies a specific poem; he tends instead to imitate a
characteristic verse form (like Tennyson’s In Memoriam stanza) and
typical stylistic features (a favourite word, a turn of phrase, a cadence).
With the parodies which purport to be translations, there is the added
twist that parody is itself of course a kind of translation – or, one
might say, a deliberate mistranslation – of an original. This allows
Kipling scope for further ingenuity. Secondly, there is the invitation
in each case to spot how the car motif is being used: it may be some
feature of cars themselves, like the gear stick, or some typical motor-
ing incident or hazard like speeding, drunk driving or a brush with the

Each of the twenty-six parodies deserves and rewards attention, but
I only have time this evening to discuss a few of the effects Kipling
achieves in selected examples. Let me start with the opening parody,
“Sepulchral”, which, as I explained, is one of the later 1919-1929

Swifter than aught ‘neath the sun the car of Simonides

moved him.
Two things he could not out-run—Death and a Woman

who loved him.8

What an apt point of departure: a supposed translation of an epigram
from The Greek Anthology, one of the fountain-heads of European
(hence by descent English) poetry. Specifically, Kipling’s couplet
evokes Simonides (c556-c468), author of the famous epitaph for the
Spartans who fell at Thermopylae: ‘Go now, and tell the Spartans,
passer-by,/That here obedient to their laws we lie.’ Kipling had imi-
tated similarly terse epigrams from The Greek Anthology in his Great
War sequence, “Epitaphs of the War 1914—1918”, notably in
“Common Form”: ‘If any question why we died/Tell them, because
our fathers lied.’9 Here Kipling uses fast cars and Simonides to offer

a laconic, sardonic reflection on love and death. En passant, he also
takes the opportunity to have a swipe at the stiltedness of much Vic-
torian translatorese in the phrase ‘aught ‘neath the sun’.

“Arterial” which immediately follows is another of the late
additions to the sequence:


Frost upon small rain—the ebony-lacquered avenue

Reflecting lamps as a pool shows goldfish.
The sight suddenly emptied out of the young man’s eyes

Entering upon it sideways.


In youth, by hazard, I killed an old man.

In age I maimed a little child.
Dead leaves under foot reproach not:
But the lop-sided cherry-branch—whenever the sun rises,

How black a shadow!10

This evocation of a series of hit-and-run accidents is a small master-
piece and seriously challenges the common assumption that Kipling
never read his younger, more experimental contemporaries. Both the
style and the use of free verse suggest that he must have known Ezra
Pound’s Cathay (1915) and Lustra (1916) or Arthur Waley’s A Hun-
dred and Seventy Chinese Poems (1918) or perhaps both. Kipling bril-
liantly hits off the compressions and inversions, the somewhat man-
nered phrasing and cadence – the sheer Chinoiserie – of Pound’s and
Waley’s translations in lines like ‘Dead leaves under foot reproach
not’ and ‘How black a shadow!’. Notice, too, the quietly aestheticising
pun in the title, “Arterial”, hinting at the artiness of Chinese poetry,
a point immediately exemplified by the exquisite delicacy of describ-
ing a road covered with black ice as “the ebony-lacquered avenue”.

By contrast, “The Advertisement” and “The Justice’s Tale” (Nos
4 and 5), though entertaining enough in their way, seem to me a little
less successful because, technically, Kipling has allowed himself a
much easier run. In “The Advertisement”, subtitled ‘In the Manner of
the Earlier English’, he is presumably taking off the ‘manner’ of medi-
eval alliterative poems like Langland’s Piers Plowman: ‘In a somer
seson, whan soft was the sonne,/I shope me into shroudes as I a shepe
were’. Except that he only does so in a loosely impressionistic way.
Instead of accurately reproducing the basic pattern of such verse – two
alliteratively stressed syllables in the first half of the line and one (only

very occasionally two) in the second, Kipling makes up his own pat-
tern, which mostly consists of separate alliterate grouping in each half
of the line (‘Lordly of leather, gaudily gilded’): highly alliterative, but
not quite the same thing.11

As its title implies, “The Justice’s Tale” is one of the parodies
which involves motoring and the law. It also contains a couple of good
jokes. ‘By the Road’ is a nice travesty of the stock medieval phrase
‘By the Rood’ (meaning ‘By the Cross’) and ‘He was more wood
[mad] than bull in china-shoppe’ speaks for itself. However, while
Kipling successfully travesties Chaucer’s habit of slipping in homely
proverbs and colloquialisms and manages quite effectively to echo
something of his slyly guileless tone (‘Hee was soe wise ne man colde
showe him naught/And out of Paris was hys learnyng brought’ – a
half-nod here to the Prioress, perhaps}, the attempts at ‘Chaucerian’
spelling and prosody are too slapdash to produce anything more than
a very generalised and largely visual impression of the original.12

Not so, No 12, ” “When the Journey was Intended to the City” “.
This spoof of Milton’s grand style is wonderfully and satisfyingly
obfuscating. Kipling gets maximum ‘mileage’ out of Milton’s addic-
tion to convoluted syntax, extended similes, classical allusions, and
ponderous Latinisms (including the splendid ‘Circumvoluminant’). So
successful is the obfuscation that it can take several readings to work
out all the nuances of this hilarious description of drunk driving and
the inevitable pile-up:

When that with meat and drink they had fulfilled

Not temperately but like him conceived

In monstrous jest at Meudon, whose regale

Stands for exemplar of Gargantuan greed,

In his own name supreme, they issued forth

Beneath new firmaments and stars astray,

Circumvoluminant; nor had they felt

Neither the passage nor the sad effect

Of many cups partaken, till that frost

Wrought on them hideous, and their minds deceived.

Thus choosing from a progeny of roads,

That seemed but were not, one most reasonable,

Of purest moonlight fashioned on a wall,

Thither they urged their chariot whom that flint

Buttressed received, itself unscathed—not they.13

The parodies of Byron and Wordsworth (Nos 14 and 15) are equally

well-judged. “The Tour” is naturally in ottava rima, the stanzaic form
which Byron made uniquely his own in “Beppo” and Don Juan.

Thirteen as twelve my Murray always took—

He was a publisher. The new Police
Have neater ways of bringing men to book,

So Juan found himself before J.P.’s
Accused of storming through that placid nook

At practically any pace you please.
The Dogberry, and the Waterbury, made

It fifty mile—five pounds. And Juan paid!14

How deftly this catches Byron’s lordly but worldly tone, the oh-so-
knowing aside (‘He was a publisher’) and even Byron’s use of the
odd insouciant poeticism (‘placid nook’). How neatly Juan’s speeding
is captured in the deliberately anachronism of the Dogberry/Waterbury
joke: Dogberry, the incompetent constable from Much Ado about
Nothing; Waterbury, of course, the famous make of watches.

But excellent as the Byron parody is, the prize exhibit in the entire
sequence is, I think, undoubtedly “The Idiot Boy”, Kipling’s version
of the feckless young male driver done à la Wordsworth:

He wandered down the mountain grade

Beyond the speed assigned—
A youth whom Justice often stayed

And generally fined.

He went alone, that none might know

If he could drive or steer.
Now he is in the ditch, and Oh!

The differential gear!15

Kipling plays a number of games here with Wordsworth. The title is
of course lifted straight from Wordsworth’s ‘lyrical ballad’ of the same
name. ‘Wandered’ immediately echoes ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’,
but the Wordsworth the parody mainly recalls is the ‘Lucy’ poem
“She dwelt among the untrodden ways”, in particular the final pathetic
quatrain which Kipling splendidly undermines with his ‘differential

She lived unknown, and few could know

When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in the Grave, and, oh,

The difference to me!

Kipling is too good a sport not to include himself in this parodic
motorcade, and the penultimate piece, “The Moral”, appropriately
spoken by the car itself and nicely guying “The Song of the Banjo”,
is again amongst the best. There is the annoying note of breezy expert-
ise (‘You mustn’t groom an Arab with a file’), the irritating air of
demotic superiority (‘You hadn’t ought to tension-spring a mule’); the
predilection for out-of-the-way slang (‘brumby’, an Australian term
for a wild horse). There is a perfect spoof Kiplingesque line: ‘I’m the
Mentor of banana-fingered men!’ (one worthy of the late, great comic
poet Gavin Ewart, who specialised in such morsels). There is, finally,
the persistent habit of wrenching commonsensical, even platitudinous,
maxims from unlikely contexts and delivering them as though they
were profound truths:

I will make you know your left hand from your right.

I will teach you not to drink about your biz.
I’m the only temperance advocate in sight!

I am all the Education Act there is!16

On the final piece, “The Marrèd Drives of Windsor”, I am afraid I
have little to offer. Shakespeare is notoriously parody-proof, and
Kipling’s overcluttered attempt is no exception to this rule. His efforts
to have fun with Falstaff, Hal, Portia, Shylock, traffic offences and the
judiciary rarely get out of first gear. However, the fake Johnsonian
Preface is nicely turned and of real interest because it contains
Kipling’s own ‘apology’ for parody: ‘those same forces of natural
genius, which expatiate in splendour and passion, demand for their
refreshment and sanity an abruptness of release and a lawlessness of
invention, proportioned to precedent constrictions.’17 Parody, Kipling
implies, is the liberating complement to serious writing, and is, for the
serious writer, essential to imaginative health. Parody is civilised play;
it requires technical skill, knowledge, virtuosity, and literary flair. The
youthful Echoes and the mature “Muse among the Motors” more than
justify Carolyn Wells’s long forgotten claim that Kipling’s parodies
‘rank with the highest’ and mine this evening that he can play with
the best.18