The Amir’s Homily

Notes on the text

These notes, edited by John McGivering, are partly new, and partly based on the ORG. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of Life’s Handicap, as published and frequently reprinted between 1891 and 1950.


[Title] a ‘Homily’ is a practical sermon rather than a doctrinal one, which might be, to some, a tedious moralising discourse.

[Page 332, line 1] Amir from the Arabic – commander, chief or lord. The title of the rulers of several Muslim countries. There are alternative spellings – see Hobson-Jobson (p. 17).

Abdur Rahman Khan (1830-1901) Emir of Afghanistan (1880). Durand (Foreign Secretary to the Viceroy of India) recalls him as a sensual brutal savage – a sort of Afghan Henry VIII.
(Andrew Lycett, p. 107)

[Page 332, line 2] G.C.S.I. Grand Commander of the Most Exalted Order of the Indian Empire.

[Page 332, line 3] the Queen of England Queen Victoria (reigned from 1837-1901).

[Page 332, lines 32-33 and overleaf] the fear of death … a echo of Psalm 111, verse 10: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

[Page 333, line 8] impale a dreadful form of execution where the living body is transfixed by a sharpened stake.
Kabul capital of Afghanistan, 190 miles west north west of Peshawar. The ‘Bala Hissar’, former residence of the Amir, dominates the city.

[Page 333, line 24] Harun al Raschid
(c. 766-809) Caliph of Baghdad; chiefly known in the West as the central figure in The Arabian Nights, the celebrated series of stories told night after night by Queen Scheherezade. King Shahryar had killed wife after wife on the day after the wedding, until he married Scheherazade who saved her life by the stories she told. The Arabian Nights were translated from the Arabic by various people, including Sir Richard Francis Burton (1821-1890).

In his prose and verse Kipling often uses ornate language which parodies these stories; see, in particular, “Railway Reform in Great Britain” which is reprinted in KJ 310/19, and “The Butterfly that Stamped” in Just So Stories.

[Page 334, line 2] Baber Gardens probably those laid out by Abdur Rahman round the tomb of Zahir-ud-din Mohammed (1483-1530) known as Babur- or Baber – (‘the Lion’). Babur founded the Moghul Dynasty which lasted until 1858).

It is obviously impossible for Kipling to have seen the Amir dispensing justice, since he never visited Kabul, but – as always – he was able to use his happy knack of drawing on descriptions from others to give a vivid account of the scene.

[Page 334, line 7] feudal chiefs the ‘feudal’ system in Europe was based on land-holding in return for military service. [See “Young Men at the Manor” and other stories in Puck of Pook’s Hill].

[Page 334, line 16] dockets files of papers – correspondence.

[Page 334, line 21] astrakhan the prepared skins of lambs from Astrakhan, then a province of the Russian Empire on the right bank of the Volga.

[Page 335, line 31] Kandahar provincial capital and fortress 210 miles south-west of Kabul.

[Page 336, line 3] lihaf Hindi – a coverlet, quilt or quilted upper garment.

[Page 336, line 31] Sirdars Hindi, from the Persian – in this context leaders, commanders, officers, See Hobson-Jobson (p. 841).

[Page 337, line 6] Dar arid death.

[Page 337, line 8] the whole of him was seen no more together he was probably quartered and the sections of his body exhibited at the gates of the city as a warning to others.

[Page 337, line 11] the Prophet Mohammed (571-632), the Founder of Islam.

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2006 All rights reserved