The Benefactors

(notes edited by John McGivering with assistance from Dr Gillian Sheehan)



[ORG] Volume 5, page 2589 (Uncollected No. 249) records first publication in the National Review and the American Magazine for July 1912, and the Evening Standard, London, on 15 March 1948. Collected in the Sussex Edition, volume 30, page 269, and the Burwash Edition volume 23 – without the heading:

Men are not moved to higher things
By wit or common sense,
But cursed by priests and kicked by Kings,
Use them in self-defence.

See also the thirteen verses with the same name (ORG no. 1002) in The Years Between, the first two stanzas (slightly amended) appear over “The Edge of the Evening” (A Diversity of Creatures).


This is a political tract, set in a boiler-room (similar to those in coal-burning vessels of the time) in Hell where various souls are being punished for their sins.

The years between 1910 and 1914 were a time of considerable political unrest in Britain. Issues under hot debate included the future of Ulster, and votes for women, while a number of serious industrial disputes were taking place. Meanwhile Europe was dividing into armed camps and drifting toward war. [See “The Strange Death of Liberal England by George Dangerfield].

There was unrest in the British coal industry in 1910/1912 which is reported in The Times, and in Kipling’s letter to H. A Gwynne of 16 March, 1912 [Letters Vol 4, Ed. Pinney, page 99]. Gwynne had been a colleague of Kipling’s on The Friend of Bloemfontein during the South African War; see “Folly Bridge” (Uncollected No. 231).  A strike in February 1912 may well have inspired both the letter and this tirade against Trade Unions.

Notes on the Text

morning watch: 0400 to 0800 in the Royal Navy.

Hades: Hell.

fires die down…:  This is more likely to happen at the end of the middle watch (0001 to 0400) when human life is at its lowest ebb!

Haka: The only reference we have found is to the traditional Maori dance performed by the New Zealand rugby team before a match, designed to strike terror into the opposition. But Kipling may simply have liked the sound of the name.

Fenir:  ‘Fenrir’ was the monstrous wolf of Norse mythology.

Oisinn:  Another ancient name that must have appealed to Kipling. Oisinn, in legend, was the great poet of ancient Ireland, and a great warrior of the Fianna.

Chivalry:  seen as the ideal way of life for knights in the Middle Ages, which valued valour, courtesy, generosity and skill at arms. (Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable).

gunpowder: was known to the Chinese from earliest times, and introduced in Europe during the Middle Ages. Once firearms and cannon had been invented, the day of the free-riding knight in shining armour, the classic figure of the Age of Chivalry, was over.

Friar:  a member of a religious order – the reference is to Roger Bacon, (c. 1214-1294), the English philosopher and Franciscan friar who is sometimes credited as one of the earliest European advocates of modern scientific method. See the Headnote to “The Eye of Allah” and Debits and Credits page 376 line 6.

Milanese armourers:  famous for the quality of their steel for armour and weapons.

Silversmith at Ephesus:  See Acts 19, 24: ‘a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith’;  St. Paul preached against the silver images of Diana that in Roman times were made for the people to worship.

culverin:  an early type of cannon.

Pope: the Bishop of Rome and head of the Roman Catholic Church.

Keys of St. Peter: the first disciple of Jesus is often depicted (right) holding the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Interdicts: Papal instructions to the clergy forbidding access to certain services as a punishment for wrong-doing.

Inquisitions: tribunals once set up by the Roman Catholic Church to find and punish heretics.

printing-press: William Caxton (c. 1422-1492) English merchant, diplomat, writer and printer, was the first Englishman to bring a printing press into England.

Caxton’s chapel: in this context an early form of trades-union

clinkers: the slag-like residue after coal is burned.

my little arrow: an echo of old English nursery-rhyme, which may refer to Robin Hood, the celebrated 13th century outlaw who robbed the rich to give to the poor:

“Who killed Cock Robin?”
“I,” said the Sparrow,
“With my bow and arrow,
I killed Cock Robin.”
“Who saw him die?”
“I,” said the Fly…

platforms and gratings: The boiler-room in a vessel is entered from the upper deck; ladders, platforms and gratings lead down to the floor-plates

Sugden:  We have not traced a trade-unionist of this name.

burned:  ‘heretics’, who did not profess the official Christian faith, were at one burnt at the stake.

frock-coat: an elegant suit with a long jacket. (right)

Armageddon: In traditional Christian belief, the last battle on the Day of Judgement, see Revelations 16,16.

Wars of the Roses: The English civil wars in the fifteenth century between the Dukes of York and their followers (whose badge was a white rose), and the Dukes of Lancaster (whose rose was red), ending with the defeat of the Yorkists by the future Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

Burgundy: a magnificent wine from the Rhone Valley in France.

Dies erit…:  This could perhaps be translated as: ‘It will be a very cold day, inauspicious for a printer’, making the point that newspapers can’t be printed without power. But it is not a recognisable quotation, nor is it good Latin.

Trades Disputes Act : The Taff Vale Railway Company sued the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants in 1901 for losses during a strike. As a result of the case, the union was fined £23,000. This ruling exposed a trade union to being sued every time it was involved in an industrial dispute. After the 1906 General Election, the Liberal Government passed the Trades Disputes Act which removed trade union liability for such damages in future.

Triple Hat: the Triple Crown, or ‘Tiara’, once worn by Popes. This picture shows the Tiara above the keys of St Peter/

Succubus: a female demon.

s’welp me Gawd:  a Cockney version of ‘So help me God’, from the oath used in court when a witness promises to tell the truth.

unpawned: The poor raised money by borrowing from pawnbrokers – merchants who charge interest on loans with the security of objects left with them.

dado: usually a rail or ornamental border round a wall. It is not clear what Kipling means by it here.

villeins serfs. vassals:  peasants of one sort and another. Working people, all very much in the power of their Lord,

… and wenches: young peasant women

You can put that in your pipe…:  an echo of the fourteenth verse of “The Lay of St. Odille”, one of the Ingoldsby Legends by
Richard Harris Barham, (1788-1845):

For this you’ve my word, and I never yet broke it,
So put that in your pipe, my Lord Otto, and smoke it!–

Captain Kettle: the Merchant Navy hero of several novels by Charles Hyne (1866–1944).

Father of Lies: an echo of John 8,44: ‘Ye are of your father the devil … He is a liar and the father of it’

watch-bill:  a nominal list of the crew with stations and duties

one hundred and twenty-six to the minute: the normal pulse is about 70.

Lord High Makee-do:  perhaps a combination of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Lord High Executioner (The Mikado), and pidgin-English, meaning to manage with available resources – make-do. See also “A Flight of Fact” (Land and Sea Tales page 109, line 16).

harnessed the tides: Tide-mills have been known since the seventh century.

Root, hog or die: the theme of several American songs of the 1850s:

I’m right from old Virginny wid my pocket full of news,
I’m worth twenty shillings right square in my shoes.
It doesn’t make a bit of differance to neider you nor I
Big pig or little pig, Root, hog, or die.

Pungo: burst or punctured [Smaller Slang Dictionary by Eric Partridge]. See “The Horse Marines” (A Diversity of Creatures, page 316, line 24).

Democracy: government in which power is vested in the people – a conception which Kipling did not favour greatly; see such stories as “As Easy as A.B.C.” (A Diversity of Creatures) See also Philip Mason page 198.

It must be said that when one looks at the kind of “democracy” advocated by ‘Sugden’ one can see Kipling’s point. However, this is a very highly-coloured picture of trade-union views at the time, as seen by the right-wing of the Conservative party, but certainly not by people of more liberal persuasion. [Ed.].

starboard bunker: a compartment on the right side of the vessel looking forward, containing coal.

trimming: in this context moving the coal from the far corners of the bunker to the floor-plates for the stokers to shovel it into the furnaces

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2009 All rights reserved