This poem was published in the Civil and Military Gazette, on 10 August 1886, with the signature R.K., and the heading:
The horse, added Mr. Thomas, was still fit for “purely processional purposes” Vide the Pioneer’s story of the Madras Scandals.
The poem is included in Kipling’s Scrapbook 3 of his own press cuttings in the Kipling Papers at the University of Sussex Special Collections. It was not otherwise collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 328) and Pinney (p. 1817).
A man is selling a horse that is terrible in every respect, old, mis-shapen and ill behaved. But like his daughter, or his many other worthless possessions, the beast is useful for ‘processional’ purposes.
As Pinney explains, the occasion of the poem was the publication of a story about the attempt of a civil servant named Thomas to palm off an unsound old horse on another man by an illegal scheme. Rutherford (p. 331) writes:
Through the summer of 1886 the Pioneer ran a series of articles on what it described as “the Madras Scandals”. These centred on the charge that Mr H.E. Sullivan, the Senior Member of Council in Madras, had been guilty of serious malpractice, and that Mr Crole, the Collector of Madura, had been victimised because of his attempting to draw attention to the case.
This poem deals with an unsavoury though minor episode, which was featured in the Pioneer for 7 August. Mr Crole had been suspended from his post, without pay; and Mr H.S.Thomas, a member of the Board of Revenue at Madras and an old friend of Mr Sullivan, had been appointed to enquire into Mr Crole’s administration of the area.
Mr Thomas had been at an earlier stage in his career the Collector at Tanipore, and as such Government Agent to the Ranees (Hindu Princesses) there. Mr Crole had later held the same post, and at that time Mr Thomas had wanted to buy a horse from him, but was reluctant to pay the full price. He had offered an old horse of his own as part payment; and when Mr Crole refused, he proposed that Crole should acquire the horse on behalf of the Ranees, at their expense, provide it with a home in their stables, and retain the purchase price as part payment from him, Mr Thomas.
Mr Crole had very properly refused. He had now been goaded into leaking the story, including the fact that Mr Thomas, while admitting that the horse had certain defects, had argued that it would none the less make a very handsome show-horse for processions.
Kay Robinson, already a friend of Kipling, had taken over as Editor of the Civil and Military Gazette in June 1886, with a brief from the proprietors to give the paper ‘more sparkle’. When Kipling returned from leave in Simla to Lahore in August the two young men were soon working together on excellent terms. Robinson must have encouraged Kipling to enlist the CMG in the campaign against the “Madras Scandals”, hence this poem, “At the Bar” a few weeks later, and Kipling’s “Two Limericks on the Madras Scandals” the following month.
©Philip Holberton amd John Radcliffe 2020 All rights reserved