The Mary Gloster

(notes by George Engel, relying heavily on the ORG for the history of merchant shipping)


First appeared in The Seven Seas ., 1896; also in I.V, 1919; D.V.,1940; Sussex Edition, Vol. 33, page 129; Burwash Edition, Vol. 26. In D.V. 1940 and the Sussex and Burwash editions the poem bears the date 1894 at the head – presumably the year in which it was begun in Vermont.

Background to the poem

The poem reflects Kipling’s growing interest in the merchant navy and, like the earlier “Tomlinson” (q.v), expresses his dislike of the followers of the Aesthetic Movement. Its form is derived from Browning’s dramatic monologues, and probably also owes something to Tennyson’s in some ways similar deathbed monologue “Northern Farmer. Old Style”, first published in 1864. Sir Anthony Gloster’s career follows the historical development of nineteenth-century shipbuilding, for an account of which see the last chapter of the later editions of Master Mariners by John Spears.

Some critical comments

“After his return to Vermont, he wrote “The “Mary Gloster””, a companion piece to “McAndrew’s Hymn”, the one, as Mr Eliot has said, exposing the failure of success, while the other exalts the success of failure. These were his boldest experiments in the genre of Browning’s Men and Women.” (Charles Carrington: Rudyard Kipling His Life and Work (1955) p.213.)

“Supreme among his verses at this time [1894-1896] was the poem “The ‘Mary Gloster'” – similar in form but far more successful than “McAndrew’s Hymn” – in which a villainous shipowner on his deathbed berates his effeminate son.” (Lord Birkenhead: Rudyard Kipling (1978) p.145.)

Lord Birkenhead’s reference to Sir Anthony as “villainous” is perhaps unduly strong, though it is true that he was prepared to cheat the insurance companies, exploited his deceased partner’s notes in a way that angered his widow, and was perhaps mean in telling his son to give his mistress “pore Aggie” a payoff of only £100. [Ed.]

See also Peter Keating: Kipling the Poet (1994) pp.108-110.

[G. E.]