This poem was published in the Pioneer on 15 September 1888, with the signature ‘R.K.’ and a subheading ‘With all apologies to C.G. Leyland’. It was reprinted in the Civil and Military Gazette on 18 September, and the Pioneer Mail on 19 September. It was not later collected by Kipling, but is included in Scrapbook 4 of his own press cuttings in the Kipling Papers at the University of Sussex Special Collections.
Hans Breitmann is the hero of The Breitmann Ballads (1871) by C.G. Leyland (1824-1903). Written in a combination of broken English and German, they record the experiences of a German immigrant to the United States. Kipling knew and liked them, though this seems to be one of only two published parodies.
See also “How Breitmann became Preside
on the Bicycle ticket”. He used verses in Breitmann style as the chapter headings for ‘With the Main Guard’ (Soldiers Three) and ‘The Incarnation of Krishna Mulvaney’ (Life’s Handicap). He is also the narrator of two tragic and brutal stories in Life’s Handicap (1891), “Bertran and Bimi” and “Reingelder and the German flag”>.
Fritz Schwackenhammer, who figures in a footnote, is a friend of Breitmann’s who appears as a commentator in several of Leland’s ballads.
Rutherford (p. 423) notes:
On 10 May 1888 a native newspaper, the vernacular weekly Rajyabhakta, had accused a British official in the Bombay administration of taking bribes, alleging that:
‘we have personally seen a bag of Rs. [rupees] 20,000 placed in the railway carriage of the political agent, Kathiawar, by a Raja.’
The Bombay Government had written to the paper asking for details. In reply the editor named the former political agent for Kathiawar, Colonel L.C. Barton, but indicated that the only witnesses had been two men whose names he had now forgotten. When pressed further the editor gave impertinent or evasive replies, and denied on 15 August that any charges of bribery had in fact been made. The Bombay Government then issued a Resolution dated 7 September, setting out the documents in the case with its conclusion:
‘the Government having instituted an inquiry into the specific allegations … find it impossible to take action upon charges so vague and stale, the truth of which is on the face of them so improbable. The editor’s letter, dated the 15th ultimo, virtually amounts to a recantation of his specific accusation, and no further action need, therefore, be taken in regard to it.’
[Bombay Gazette, 8 September 1888.]
The Bombay Government was sensitive on such matters since one of its senior officials, Mr Arthur Crawford, was currently under investigation on charges of corruption; but the Pioneer was sharply critical of it for engaging in such a correspondence on the character of one of its officers, and still more for publishing a Resolution on the matter. When it became clear that there was no case to answer, the Government should, said the Pioneer, have brought a libel action or else dropped the matter completely:‘we cannot imagine anything more feeble or more mischievous than the line that has been taken.’— Pioneer, 11 September 1888.
In the poem Breitmann is more extreme. He advises the Governor that in Kansas, in a case where an editor has committed such a libel, he would be hanged for it.
It is a similar philosophy to the one expressed in “Virginibus Puerisque”; where there is villainy or corruption firm frank action is required.
Notes on the Text
B and O German pronunciation of P and O, Peninsular and Oriental, the chief shipping line between England and India.
Darwaza bund not at home (Urdu),
Deutscher A German, Lord Reay, Lieut.-Governor of Bombay, was the son of Eneas, Baron Mackay, and Maria, daughter of Baron Fagel, Privy Councillor of the Netherlands. He lived in the Netherlands till the age of 36, becoming a British citizen in 1877 when he succeeded to his father’s title. (Rutherford)
ein juron an oath.
Die Färb sind mir nicht unbekannt The colours are not unknown to me.
Kathiawar see Background.
Lager, die girls … Kipling reused the phrase, again spoken by a German, in stanza 8 of ‘An Imperial Rescript’ (1890): ‘Lager, der girls und der dollars, dey makes or dey breaks a man.’
gali abusive language (Urdu).
Redakteur Editor (German).
schwein-blatt swine of a news-sheet (German).
druckerei printing office (German).
Kansas the Civil and Military Gazette for 16 August 1888 had carried a news item of a lynching in Kansas.
‘bleeedin’ Kansas’ a propaganda phrase widely current before the American Civil War, to describe the predicament of Kansas as a battleground between slavery and anti-slavery interests, but here used to indicate the prevalence of simple gun law. (Rutherford)
Haf folded his vings in de West Colonel Barton, the subject of the libel (see Background), went on the ‘Supernumerary Unemployed List’ on 3 January 1886; in effect, he retired.
Potzblitz a mild oath.
Reayson-de-blu raison de plus all the more reason (French), with a pun on ‘Reay’.
Breitmannleid the song of Breitmann (German).
©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved