As Easy as A.B.C.

Notes on the text

(These notes, by John McGivering, are partly new, and partly based on the ORG. We are grateful to Alastair Wilson for various comments and suggestions. The page and, line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of A Diversity of Creatures, as published and frequently reprinted between 1917 and 1950.)


[Title] a proverbial saying. The A.B.C. is simply the alphabet, one of the first things a young child learns.

[Page 1 lines 1-10] The A.B.C., that semi-elected… etc slightly amended from “With the Night Mail” (Actions and Reactions), p.135, line 30 onwards.

[Page 1 line 16] the Board’s Official Reporter this is another story in which the narrator might or might not be Kipling.

[Page 2 line 1] Illinois a mid-western State of the United States of America, capital Springfield, chief town Chicago, on Lake Michigan.

[Page 2 line 29] Foggia Italian city 78 miles from Naples.

[Page 3 line 14] Gothaven now Godthaab or Nuuk, capital of Greenland,

[Page 3 line 14] false auroras Aurora Borealis in the Northern Hemisphere, brilliantly coloured lights caused by streams of charged particles from the sun – here presumably by electrical discharges from the aircraft.

[Page 3 lines 28 – 31] transparent chart-table where the map … slid along Kipling has invented the Global Positioning System, which uses a constellation of Medium Earth Orbit satellites to transmit microwave signals, enabling a GPS receiver to show position, course and speed of a vessel, aircraft, car or individual. It was developed for the United States military, and became available for civilian use in 1983, some seventy years after this tale was written.

[Page 4 line 6] Lake Michigan one of the Great Lakes in the northern United States.

[Page 4 line 13] Florida the southernmost of the United States of America

[Page 4 line 14] California one of the westernmost of the United States of America,

[Page 4 line 21] no printed news-sheet… this may reflect Kipling’s own dislike of reporters despite having been one himself.

[Page 4 line 32] Salati’s Statue of the Nigger in Flames we have not traced this artist.’Nigger’ is an offensive word for black people which is not now used. See page 32 line 32

[Page 5 line 5] MacDonough’s Song the whole text is given at page 43 of this volume.

[Page 5 line 14] agoraphobia the dread of open spaces

[Page 5 line 20] our total population today In February 2008, the world’s population is believed to have reached over 6.7 billion.

[Page 6 line 1] the Plague a usually fatal disease carried by fleas on rats. “A Doctor of Medicine” (Rewards and Fairies) and Dr. Sheehan’s Notes.

[Page 6 line 22] Waukegan on the West shore of Lake Michigan about twenty miles North of Chicago.

[Page 7 line 9] Bureau Creek in Bureau County (page 13 below).

[Page 7 line 23] Pest ! in this context an expression of annoyance – an Italian might have said Sei una pesta ! Pest is an old word for the plague.

[Page 8 line 2] the obedient cultivator this was evidently radio-controlled, another imaginative piece of foresight by Kipling. The first radio-controlled machine that we know of was an aircraft, the DH 82 Tiger Moth Queen Bee, which appeared in the Navy in 1935.

[Page 10 line 17] little town in 1900 the population of Chicage approached 1·7 Million

[Page 10 line 23] road-surfacing machines in use today but somewhat surprising in 1912. See KJ 044/107 for a similar machine of the 1930s, and “An Habitation Enforced”, page 36, line 1 (Actions and Reactions), for the predecessor of the bulldozer, a ‘scraper’ drawn by horses, which Kipling would have seen in Vermont.

[Page 11 line 22] Once there was The People… the last verse of “MacDonough’s Song”, see page 43 for the full version.

[Page 12 line 10] blinkers part of the harness of a horse – shields for the eyes to prevent the creature seeing objects at the sides which might upset him, but here used for helmets with dark glasses.

quartermaster afloat, a fairly senior rating who steers the vessel under the direction of the officer-of-the-watch with other duties in harbour. What this one does is open to question.

[Page 12 line 20] almost intolerable light On the back page of the Sunday Mirror of May 3, 1970, there was a report on student disturbances in the U.S.A.:

‘California police used a helicopter with a bright light to try to break up a mob …’
[see KJ177/22, also KJ181/15]

[Page 12 line 22] frozen lightning a blinding light, like a laser.

[Page 12 line 24] Galena town about 150 miles from Chicago.

Vincennes a city in Indiana about 240 miles from Chicago. Formerly part of a French enclave, which accounts for the name.

[Page 12 line 25] Keithburg now Keithsburg– a town in Illinois about 60 miles from Chicago.

[Page 12 line 26] Winthrop Woods there are several Winthrops in the United States – this is probably the one in Minnesota, some 400 miles from Chicago

[Page 13 lines 1-2] When a Woman kills a Chicken etc probably by Kipling himself.

[Page 13 line 14] growling spark this is the interference, called ‘atmospherics’ or ‘mush’ heard on the radio.

[Page 16 line 5] Judgement Day ‘And I saw the dead … stand before God … and the books were opened … and the dead were judged.’ (Revelations 20,12).

[Page 16 line 8] music of the spheres the followers of Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher and mathematician of the 6th century BC, believed that the solar system consisted of ten spheres revolving in circles about a central fire, each giving off a sound like a projectile; the closer in lower tones, the farther in a higher pitch, all merging together into beautiful harmonies.

[Page 17 line 7] We reason with them in Little Russia this was written before the Revolution of 1917 when the tsarist autocracy was overthrown, and may be a touch of sarcasm.

[Page 17 line 10] worked his ship into the clips this is a mooring similar to those in “With the Night Mail” page 111, line 3 in Actions and Reactions.

[Page 20 line 16] Serviles an echo of the Spanish government under the Constitution of 1812 in which a reactionary party which opposed the Liberals and sought to preserve the Old Regime was known derisively as the “Serviles”. (See Charles Esdaile,

The Peninsular War: A New History

, Palgrave Macmillan, New York 2003).

[Page 20 line 17] tuberculosis see Dr. Gillian Sheehan’s Notes.

[Page 22 line 8] Nero The fifth and last Roman Emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty (37-68 AD), renowned for his cruelty

[Page 23 line 9] Voodoo magical beliefs and ceremonies from West Africa and the Caribbean. .

[Page 23 line 29] seven degrees of country about 480 Statute Miles (780 km.) Whatever the mathematical explanation, the phrase implies a large area of a large country like the United States or South Africa. See also “The Lesson”.

[Page 26 line 24] more than six feet high generally speaking, some members of each generation seem to be a little taller than the one before, but these people seem to be somewhat stunted – see page 29 line 19.

[Page 28 line 2] wolves the largest of the dog family, canis lupus, found in North America and Eurasia; See the Mowgli stories in the Jungle Books.

musk-oxen hoofed mammals, Ovibos moschatus, found in the North American Arctic

[Page 29 line 20] six-foot-eight six feet, eight inches, or just over two metres.

[Page 32 line 32] To the Eternal Memory of the Justice of the People ORG suggests that the Negro was lynched. Angus Wilson, in a penetrating examination of “Macdonough’s Song” which follows this story, agrees. The statue is the very symbol of the old terrible crowd power, a portrayal of the lynching of a negro. (page 248)

[Page 33 line 10] under the tyrannous heel of the Board echoes of the bombastic speechifying by the Servile at page 36 line 29 onwards, and the poem “Maryland ! My Maryland !” by James Ryder Randall (1839-1908):

The despot’s heel is on thy shore, Maryland !

[Page 33 line 25] caitiffs despicable cowards (archaic).

[Page 33 line 29] gallery-work in this context ‘playing to the gallery’ in a theatre, high up in the cheapest seats, where the most vociferous of an artiste’s supporters usually sit; overacting.

[Page 34 line 16] agoraphobia a morbid fear of open spaces.

[Page 35 line 1] between two switches apparatus for transferring railway vehicles from one line to another, known as points in the United Kingdom; in this context, he is given a choice of two options.

[Page 35 line 16] bilge-doors doors in the ship’s bottom.

[Page 35 line 31] the Combination a fictitious theatre in London.

[Page 36 line 3] London, Chatham and Dover a railway company of South-Eastern England between 1859 and 1923 before amalgamating with three other companies to form the Southern Railway. Its lines ran through London and Kent. Here used as the name of a musical show.

Earl’s Court in Kensington in West London, home to the Earls Court Exhibition Centre, one of the country’s largest indoor arenas and a popular place of entertainment for many years.

[Page 36 line 9] Polly Milton heroine of An Old-Fashioned Girl (1870) a novel for children by Louisa May Alcott. (1832-1888, author of Little Women, 1868) here used for the name of a fictitious actress.

[Page 36 line 15] Oh, cruel lamps of London… from The Lights of London, by George Robert Sims (1847-1922) English journalist and dramatic author.

[Page 37 line 6] maypole-dances traditional folk dances performed in a circle round a decorated pole.

[Page 37 line 9] blow-out a disaster, from the bursting of a motor-tyre.

[Page 39 line 19] deboshed Anglicised spelling of French pronunciation of debauched, meaning ‘dissolute’.

[Page 39 line 24] Earl’s Court see page 36 line 3 above.

[Page 40 line 12] Little Village a nickname for London.

[Page 41 line 32] three million people Greater London covers some 600 square miles (1600 sq. km) and had an estimated population of some 7.5 million in 2006.

[Page 42 line 1 onwards Chatham, Tonbridge, Redhill … places all some twenty to thirty miles (say, thirty to fifty km) round London, and probably somewhat larger than the area quoted above.
ORG believes that The Shape of Things to Come, (1933) a work of science fiction by Herbert George Wells (1866-1946) owes something to this story and “With the Night Mail” – see headnote. (Wells’s books were filmed in 1936 and 1979)

“MacDonough’s Song”