The History of a Fall

(Notes edited by David Page. The page and line numbers below refer to the Authorised Edition of Abaft the Funnel published by Doubleday and Page, New York,in 1909.)

Publication history

First published in the Civil and Military Gazette, 23 September 1889. Collected Volume VII, No.53 of Turn-overs, 1889, and in Abaft the Funnel (Unauthorised and Authorised Editions), 1909.

The story

The story is set first in Simla, the summer location of the Government of India, and then in London some years later. It begins:

Mere English will not do justice to the event. Let us attempt it according to the custom of the French. Thus and so following:

The phraseology is pseudo-French with many odd coined words which in some cases are made up of half English and half French, or what might now be covered by the word “Franglais”. The story expresses the traditional English view of the time that foreigners were strange people with strange habits and odd languages who could not speak English properly. In fact Kipling had great affection and respect for the French and their language and literature from an early age. To attempt a “translation” of all the pseudo-French phrases would be tedious in the extreme – it is far better to enjoy the story as written using the notes mainly for historical references.

Basically the story is a farcical variation on the subject of “How are the mighty fallen!” The story is addressed to: ‘the Governors, Lieutenant-Governors, and the Commissionaires of the Oriental Indias.’ It relates how the Narrator effected an introduction to Sir Cyril Wollobie, K.C.S.I., C.M.G. and his wife at a Ball in Simla, despite the pomp and circumstance of the occasion. Sir Cyril, of course, immediately forgets him after making his standard greeting.

Several years later the Narrator is in London, riding on a penny omnibus, and recognises Sir Cyril as a fellow passenger. He re-introduces himself and now Sir Cyril, having “fallen”, is glad to recognise him as an acquaintance from his more affluent days in India.

The Omnibus

The London omnibus was indeed transport for the common people, and that no gentleman would normally be seen in one: anyone who could afford the fare would take a cab or a private carriage. It is told of Lord Curzon, who had been a very grand Viceroy of India and later became a Cabinet Minister, that one day when the cab drivers were on strike, he tried to commandeer an omnibus, without success. This did not amuse the noble Lord:

‘This omnibus business is not what it is reported to be. I hailed one at the bottom of Whitehall and told the man to take me to Carlton House Terrace. But the fellow flatly refused!’.
[Paul Johnson, Ed., The Oxford Book of Political Anecdotes 1986, p. 181].

The doom of retirement

The story ends with the Narrator once more addressing ‘the Governors, Lieutenant-Governors, and the Commissaires’ (not ‘Commissionaires’ this time) pointing out the doom that awaits them on retirement.

Notes on the Text

[Page 54, title] The History of a Fall derives from the phrase in the Bible, II Samuel, 1, 19 25 and 27: “How are the mighty fallen!”

[Page 54, line 11] K.C.S.I. Knight-Commander of the Order of the Star of India – the senior of the British Orders reserved for work for India under the Raj. [ORG]
C.M.G. Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. Usually given for work in or on behalf of the outlying parts of the Commonwealth (Empire). [ORG]

[Page 54, line 19] Lorr-maire presumably Lord Mayor, but the Viceroy of India in no way resembled a Lord Mayor. [ORG]

[Page 55, line 5] aheuried This is evidently intended for “ahuried”, from ahurir, to confuse, bewilder, astound, fluster, to ‘strike all of a heap’. [ORG]

[Page 55, line 11] Schnobb snob – an ostentatious admirer of social position. [ORG]

[Page 55, line 14] let us return to our Wollobies a reflection of the French phrase revenons à nos moutons or ‘let us get back to the subject under discussion’.

[Page 55, line 16] platonically admired without sensual overtones. The word derives from the philosophy of the classical Greek Plato.

[Page 55, lines 23 & 24] Aides-de-Camp officers who attend a General, Governor, etc., and act as personal assistants. The title has been adopted without change by the English from the French.

[Page 56, line 15] Jakko . . . monkies There was a large colony of monkeys on a hill behind Simla known as Jakko but, of course, they could not look down into any buildings in the town. [ORG]
Forty-five monkies looked down cf. Napoleon’s speech to the Army of Egypt before the battle of the Pyramids: “Au haut de ces Pyramides, quarante siècles vous contemplent”; i.e. ‘from the summit of these pyramids, forty centuries look down upon you’. [ORG]

[Page 57, line 9] Totnam CortrodeTottenham Court Road, London W1. A major thoroughfare running from Euston Road to Oxford Street.

[Page 57, line 10] Maple(’s) was one of the great furniture shops of London in that road. It has now closed down. [ORG]

[Page 57, line 12] Omnibuse Proletariat in 1889, an open-topped double-decked horse-drawn conveyance for the general public (or common people), fare one penny.

[Page 57, lines 20 & 21] Strike Docks and Demonstrations Laborious Dock strikes and Labour demonstrations.

[Page 57, line 22] funeste tumbril of the Proletariat the fatal transport of the masses(?). ‘Tumbrils’ were the carts in which prisoners were carried to execution during the French Revolution of the 1790s. [A better translation would be welcomed – Ed.]

[Page 58, line 6] I demand the Devil where he shoves himself. i.e., “Where the Devil are you going?” or “Who the Devil are you pushing?” [ORG]

[Page 59, line 13] Clob Club.

[Page 59, line 24] knife-board the ‘knifeboard’ design of omnibus had seating on an upper deck (in effect the roof) on which passengers sat back to back. It was nick-named ‘knifeboard’ because the seats resembled a knife-cleaning board. (

[Page 60, line 1] ulstaire an ulster. A long loose overcoat, first made in Ulster, Northern Ireland. (Chambers Dictionary)

[Page 60, line 8] affreusely affreusement – frightfully, dreadfully. [ORG]

[Page 60, line 11] street hawker a person who goes round the streets offering goods for sale.

[Page 60, lines 21 & 22] Brompton or Bayswater Districts in London, to the north and south of Hyde Park respectively. They were well known as areas in which expatriates retired, usually on too small a pension to support anything like their former lifestyle. Hence the preceding reference to ‘your Life in Death’.


©David Page 2006 All rights reserved