Fair Play

The Seepee Fair


(notes by Philip Holberton, drawing on the researches of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney, and Classical guidance from Susan Treggiari)


Published in the Civil and Military Gazette (CMG), 14 May 1886, signed R.K., with the subtitle: ‘Dulce est deSeepeere in loco’.

It is included in Kipling’s Scrapbook 3 of his own press cuttings in the Kipling Papers at the University of Sussex Special Collections. It is not otherwise collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 318) and Pinney (p. 1804).

The CMG printed an explanatory heading to the poem:

SIMLA, May 11th— The meeting of the Legislative Council, to consider the Bankruptcy Bill, which was fixed for the 13th instant, has been postponed till the 20th, on account of the Seepee Fair, which commences on Thursday.
See yesterday’s Telegram.

The poem

This seems to be a light-hearted celebration of the postponement of official business as soldiers and civilians head off to have a good time at the Fair, in the heroic rhythms of Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome:

East and West and South and North the messengers ride fast,
And tower and town and cottage have heard the trumpet’s blast.
Shame on the false Etruscan who lingers in his home,
When Porsena of Clusium is on the march for Rome!

But perhaps there is a sting in the tail, since the delayed Bankruptcy Bill, mentioned in the heading, was an important measure for many Anglo-Indians, in times of economic stress, increased taxation, and a falling rupee.


The fair held annually at Sipi, some six miles (10 km) from Simla, was one of the social events of the year. Europeans were welcomed by the local Maharajah; the Viceregal Staff gave splendid lunch parties; and the ‘hill girls assembled’, it was said, ‘from miles round’ to be ‘bought as wives by the Hill youth’ (CMG 16 May 1887).

Notes on the Text

[title] Fair Play A nice pun on the Councillors going off to play at the Fair.

[subtitle] Dulce est deSeepeere in loco – a pun on Seepee or Sipi and ‘desipere’ (to act foolishly), in the line from the Roman poet Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus, 65-8 BCE) one of Kipling’s favourite poets:

‘Dulce est desipere in loco’

(It’s sweet sometimes to play the fool)
(Odes Bk. IV, 12).

Susan Treggiari points out that the joke is that RK plays with the length of syllables, making Horace’s line pronounced as in the place name, lengthening the two ‘i’s.

Dulc’ est desiper’ in loco.

The two marked syllables are elided and not pronounced. So it was scanned:

Long, long, long, short, short, long, short, long.

The metre is known as ‘Third Asclepiad’. RK would have known this, since he was taught by ‘King’ to know his quantities properly.
Professor Treggiari also points out that in Kipling’s view Horace’s Ode IV xii is addressed to his friend, the poet Virgil. The last verse runs:

verum pone moras et studium lucri,
nigrorumque memor, dum licet, ignium
misce stulitiam consiliis brevem:
dulce est insipere in loco.

Among the many notes in his well-thumbed copy of Horace’s Odes, Kipling renders this as:

‘Put aside business worries, and though mindful of funeral pyres, mix your philosophy with a little fun. It’s relaxing to play the fool at times’.

See Kipling’s Classics by Susan Treggiari in KJ 181 for March 1972, and Kipling’s Horace edited by Charles Carrington (Methuen 1978)

jharan light cotton material with loud colourful checks, much affected for summer suits and jackets, especially by military men of the day.

jeldie lively.

spoons flirts with.

Rockcliff, Elysium, Lowrie’s, Abergeldie Hotels in Simla. There are now (2020) some 800 hotels in Shimla, as the town is now called.

Jakko the hill above Simla, encircled by a road which made it a favourite evening ride.


©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved