The Beginner

(notes by John McGivering and John Radcliffe)



The last of the first group of fourteen, published in the Daily Mail on 27 February 1904. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35 p. 136. (ORG Verse No. 850).


“Browning” (after he has been extemporising on an instrument not of his own invention). Robert Browning (1812-1889) English poet and playwright, a master of verse and dramatic monologues.


Kipling encountered him as a schoolboy and loved his work ever after. He was probably the greatest single influence on Kipling’s verse, where one can find numerous echoes of Browning. See Kipling’s “One Viceroy Resigns”. for a monologue in his manner. Also “Slaves of the Lamp, Part I” in Stalky & Co..




The first four lines of Browning’s poem “Abt Vogler” run thus:

Would that the structure brave, the manifold music I build,
Bidding my organ obey, calling its keys to their work,
Claiming each slave of the sound, at a touch, as when Solomon willed
Armies of angels that soar, legions of demons that lurk…

The theme

The Poet tells how an inexperienced driver went ahead instead of – as he thought – reversing and sits in the wreckage while police investigate the crash.
Ann Weygandt (p. 109) comments:

His parody of “Abt Vogler”
in The Muse among the Motors is negligible. “Mulholland’s Contract”, “M’Andrew’s Hymn” and “The ‘Mary Gloster’ “, are worthier tributes to Kipling’s apprenticeship
to Browning. They do not imitate Browning’s style, but
their method is his—the revealing of character in monologue,
and they are, especially the last two, really powerful pieces
of work, of a kind impossible to the unformed artist who
reproduces closely the mannerisms of his predecessors.

Notes on the Text

martagon:  plant genus of the Liliaceae (Lily family) not native to the United Kingdom.

wheel-pashed: To pash is to strike, hurl, dash, break. It seems to be a favourite word with Browning: OED cites 3 examples. [D.H.]

bonnet:  in this context the cover of the engine compartment, known as the hood in the United States.



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