My Great and Only

Notes on the text

Notes by Roger Lancelyn Green in the ORG, updated and amended by David Page based on his research for an article in KJ 304,Dec 2002, pp. 47-56. The page and line numbers below refer to the Authorised Edition of Abaft the Funnel published by Doubleday and Page, New York, in 1909.


[Page 262, line 1] Macdougal or Macdoodle Sir John M‘Dougall (1844-1917), Chairman of the London County Council, who was working to bring all songs and “turns” at the Music Halls under a strict censorship, with a licence for each item (no “ad lib.” allowed) though only enforced in the more flagrant cases of infringement. M‘Dougall’s 1889 ‘social purity crusade’ was very much in the news at the time of Kipling’s return to London, and F. Anstey (Thomas Anstey Guthrie, 1859-1934) was making brilliant play with its absurder aspects in his Model Music-Hall Songs and Dramas which appeared in the humorous journal Punch at intervals during 1889 and 1890 – and were issued in volume form in 1892.

[Page 262, lines 2-3] the principle remains the same Quotation from Nicholas Nickleby (1838-39) by Charles Dickens, Chapter XXXVII:

“The Prince Regent was proud of his legs …. So was Miss Biffin; she was—no,” added Mrs. Nickleby, correcting herself, “I think she had only toes, but the principle is the same.”

[Page 263, line 9] Barnum Although Kipling does not say in this story that he visited “Barnum’s” during his theatre pilgrimage in November, 1889, he did so in a diary-letter to Mrs Edmonia Hill for 8-16 November (Pinney ed. Letters, vol.1, p.365) and that on 14th November:

…Pip [Philip Burne Jones] … carried me off to see Barnum’s which is close to The Grange. A howling jam – the monsters made me almost sick. I do not like people without legs or hands and I hate a two headed boy. But ‘tis a great show: tho’ I never saw the tenth of it.

Barnum’s “The Greatest Show on Earth” was at Olympia, its high-light being Imre Kiralfy’s “Nero”, for “A Short Season in London Only”. [DP]

[Page 263, line 10] At one place… This was Terry’s Theatre, where the play was “Sweet Lavender” by Arthur Wing Pinero (1855-1934). “The lodging-house servant was an angel and her mother a Madonna”. Ruth Holt by Carlotta Addison and Lavender by Miss Norreys.

[Page 263, line 11] at a second … This was the Lyceum, and the play was “The Dead Heart” by Watts Phillips, first published in 1859. This revival began on 28 September 1889, and the star parts were played by Henry Irving and Ellen Terry.

[Page 263, line 12] Sounded the loud timbrel A quotation from “Miriam’s Song” by Thomas Moore in his Sacred Songs (1816). The line actually runs: ”Sound the loud timbrel o’er Egypt’s dark sea”. Possibly a pun is intended by Kipling, as the play in question, “The Dead Heart”, was about the French Revolution, and “tumbrils” were much in evidence.

[Page 263, line 14] at a third … This was The Princess’s Theatre ‘where I saw The Gold Craze by Brandon Thomas’ (author of “Charley’s Aunt”) with Amy Roselle, Fanny Brough and J. H. Barnes the cast.

[Page 263, line 17] at a fourth … This was The Shaftesbury, and the play was “The Middleman” by Henry Arthur Jones (1851-1929), which had been running since 27th August.

[Page 263, line 20] at a fifth … Among the several farces running November, 1889 it has not been possible to identify which Kipling visited. He may well have gone to the Strand Theatre and seen “Our Flat Tonight” by Mrs. Musgrave and “Boys Will Be Boys” by Joseph Mackay, both of which had been running since the middle of the summer (they had recently transferred from the Opera Comique).

[Page 264, line 8] I went to the music-halls There were so many of these, and the subjects of the songs are so general, that it is impossible to follow Kipling on his pilgrimage. He was living in Villiers Street, exactly opposite “Gatti’s-under-the-Arches”; “Gatti’s-in-the-Road (Westminster Bridge Road) was within walking distance, and even nearer were “The Strand”, “The Middlesex”, and “The Pavilion”, while “The Tivoli” was in process of building in the Strand. But doubtless he went along to such well-known Halls as “The Metropolitan”, “The Oxford”, “The Cambridge”, “The Canterbury” and “The Surrey”. One of the best impressions of the Music Hall at exactly the period Kipling describes is given by F. Anstey (see note to page 262, line 1) in his full length dialogue story “Under the Rose”, 1894.

[Page 265, line 2] “Love’s Young Dream” From the chorus of the song with this title by Thomas Moore in his Irish Melodies (1821, etc.) which runs:

But there’s nothing half so sweet in life
As love’s young dream;
No, there’s nothing half so sweet in life
As love’s young dream.

[Page 265, lines 2 & 3] billycock hats Bowler hats, named after William Coke. These were worn by the clerks who attended the music-halls, as well as the city gentlemen. [DP] (

[Page 265, lines 3 & 4] four-and-elevenpenny bonnets Ladies hats costing £0.25 in today’s decimal currency, representing the shopgirls and domestic servants who came to meet the clerks. [DP]

[Page 265, line 4] They saw that it was good A Biblical echo; see Genesis I, 10, etc. ‘And God saw that it was good’.

[Page 265, line 8] “Stagger home tight about two …” [Please can anyone identify the source of this stanza? Ed.]

[Page 265, line 2] pewter a tankard for drinking made from pewter, mainly of tin alloyed with copper and lead or antimony. [DP]

[Page 265, lines 23-24] . . . sixpence—ticket good for four pen’orth of refreshments Compare Something of Myself, page 80: ‘fourpence, which included a pewter of beer or porter, was the price of admission to Gatti’s.’

[Page 266, line 1] porter a dark-coloured strong-flavoured beer, ancestor of the stouts such as Guinness or Mackeson’s. [DP]

[Page 266, line 5] Nemesis a Greek goddess, who measured out to mortals happiness and misery, and visited with losses and suffering all who were blessed with too many gifts of fortune. [DP]

[Page 266, lines 9 & 10] fifty girls who are very much undressed, and a setting of music… the ballet. [DP]

[Page 266, lines 16-17] I chose one hall It is almost, but not absolutely, certain that this was Gatti’s in Villiers Street. It was part of the brick arches which level and support Charing Cross Railway Station, and in 1945 became The Players Theatre. In 1987 these Villiers Street premises were demolished, but a replacement theatre was built as part of the Embankment Place development. This unfortunately means that the current building is not that which Kipling frequented. It later became the new Players Theatre but this was closed, at least temporarily, in May 2002. It is understood to have now re-opened (2007). [DP]

[Page 267, lines 10-11] Great and Only A music hall singer was usually introduced: “Ladies and Gentlemen! The One Great and Only—Champagne Charlie”—or whoever it might be.

The identity of Kipling’s singer has not been definitely determined, though as explained in the headnote, the most likely candidate for the role of ‘My Great and Only’ is James Fawn. [DP] Music hall artistes performed at a bewildering number of halls even on the same night, dashing by cab from one to another. The song may not have been printed, since it would become the “Great and Only’s” personal property and part of his stock in trade.

[Page 268, line 1] “We was shopmates—boozin’ shopmates.” As described in the headnote, Leo Dryden advertised “Shopmates” as a parody of “Shipwrecked”, also known as “Shipmates”, a Victorian parlour ballad published in 1885 with words by F.E. Weatherly and music by Stephen Adams (British Library Shelfmark H.2404.(16).) Some of the text matches very closely to the parody set down by Kipling. Parodies of songs were common but were seldom published. Shopmates were men who worked together, the shop not necessarily being a retail establishment, but more likely to be a manufacturing or maintenance site. [DP]

[Page 268, line 2] as Rachel feared Ristori Elisa Felix Rachel (1820-58), the greatest of all French actresses, began as a child and achieved the leading tragic roles at the Comédie-Française, and in all the capitals of Europe. Adelaide Ristori (1822-1906), Italian, also began as a child, and went to Paris in 1855 “where after a somewhat quiet debut, she soon became an outstanding figure and a serious rival to Rachel” (Oxford Companion to the Theatre). She played Lady Macbeth in London in 1882, retired in 1885, and her Studies and Memoirs, published in 1888, was very widely read: hence Kipling could assume that his readers in 1889 would ‘take’ the reference.

[Page 268, line 16] Molière the great French comic dramatist of 1622-1673, whose real name was Jean-Baptiste Poquelin.

[Page 268, line 20] redcoats uniform of foot soldiers of the British Army. The change to khaki uniforms was not made until the Boer War of 1899-1902. [DP]

[Page 269, line 7] forage-cap a wedge-shaped cap worn at times instead of a helmet. [DP]

[Page 269, line 10] At the back o’ the Knightsbridge Barracks part of a song, almost certainly by Kipling himself. A further stanza was included in “Love-o’-Women”, Many Inventions, 1893. [DP]

[Page 269, line 12] Lifeguard … Undercook Lifeguards are members of The Queen’s Life Guards which is provided by the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment. They mount guard in Whitehall, outside Horse Guards. An Undercook was a domestic servant, apprenticed to a cook or chef. The undercook prepared meals for the domestic staff. [DP]

[Page 270, lines 1-2] mashing a tart A slang phrase very common at the time: “to mash” meant to flirt, or excite interest in one of the opposite sex; a “tart” had no pejorative connotation at that date: it was a shortened form of “sweetheart”, and meant no more.

[Page 270, line 11] as ringers to the kicking bell-rope Kipling is referring to the British system of ringing bells in which the bell starts in the mouth-up position and rotates though 360°. The rope-end rises and falls by a considerable amount during this process. [DP]

[Page 270, line 23] softer Lydian strains “Lydian airs” were proverbially soft and effeminate, from the music of the Lydians (in what is now Turkey) in classical Greek times. Kipling is probably thinking of Milton’s “L’Allegro”: “Lap me in soft Lydian airs”. A minor scale appropriate to gentle pathos.

[Page 271, line 12] An’ she can’t foot the bill A reference to the practice by which young women in [domestic] service would pay soldiers to walk out with them in the full splendour of their uniforms. (Note in Early Verse by Rudyard Kipling 1879-1889, ed. Andrew Rutherford). [DP]

[Page 271, line 14] I had builded better than I knew A quotation from The Problem by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) the American poet and essayist. The couplet runs:

He builded better than he knew;
The conscious stone to beauty grew.

[Page 272, lines 19-20] I never can recapture that first fine rapture A recollection of Robert Browning’s “Home-thoughts from Abroad”:

That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!

[Page 273, line12] Bermondsey, Battersea or Bow Areas of south-east, south-west. and east London respectively which were at that time considered to be slums, at least in parts. [DP]

[Page 273, line 22] Hercules in Greek mythology, a son of Zeus – he undertook what came to be known as the ‘Twelve Labours of Hercules’ – which he intended for the benefit of mankind.

[R.L.G//D. P. ]
©Roger Lancelyn Green and David Page 2007 All rights reserved