The Fall of Jock Gillespie

(notes by John McGivering and John Radcliffe)

Publication history

This poem was first published in the Civil and Military Gazette on 10 November 1886. See ORG Volume 8, page 5136, (listed as Verse No. 204).

It is collected in:

  • Departmental Ditties and Other Verses (1888)
  • Early Verse (1900)
  • Inclusive Verse (1919)
  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • Sussex Edition Volume 32, p. 163
  • Burwash Edition, Volume 25
  • The Works of Rudyard Kipling (Wordsworth Poetry Library)

The theme

This is a light-hearted tale with many words in Scottish dialect, in the style of the ‘Border Ballads’, stories of the turbulent border region between England and Scotland in the eighteenth century and before. This was a genre much admired by Kipling and other writers before him, notably Walter Scott (1771-1832).

It tells of a ribald, devil-may-care Scot, out in India in Kipling’s time, who suddenly exhibits signs of being in love. He laughs at nothing, makes foolish mistakes at cards, has a long golden hair on his coat and face-powder on a lapel, and objects to obscene jokes. He explains away all these tell-tale signs but, in the last verse, heads for the church with a golden ring.

One wonders how far the non-Scots among his readers understood all the words, but they will certainly have got his drift. Perhaps there was a Scot, well-known in the Lahore Club, who had recently succumbed to matrimony? The definitions below are mainly from the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) which cites Kipling in some references.

Some critical comments

Philip Mason (page 60), who himself served in India for many years, writes of how the influence of women on men’s work runs through Kipling’s Indian stories:

Kipling was dedicated to the craft of writing; that was his work. Where he was unusual was that he saw other men’s work building roads or bridges, administering a district – as also a kind of art. If a man was in love it might inspire him to work of a kind he had never been capable of, but marriage, if it was what the world calls successful, might lead to a softening of the impulse to create, a self-indulgent breakdown of the discipline art demands, a loss of nerve, a refusal to take risks. This was the creed proclaimed in the club and the mess, often brutally and facetiously; `another good man gone’, they would say when an engagement was announced, and the bridegroom on the eve of his wedding would be referred to as `the condemned man’. Kipling often expressed this as vulgarly and brutally as they, for instance in the wholly deplorable verses called `The Fall of Jock Gillespie’. But he, and probably four-fifths of the unmarried who talked like this, secretly longed for the stability and comfort of an assured home.

In Kipling’s “With Any Amazement” in “The Story of the Gadsbys” (Soldiers Three) Gadsby’s best man describes him as ‘… sleeping as soundly as a condemned criminal…’ on the eve of his wedding. And Kipling’s Envoi to “The Story of the Gadsbys” includes the much-quotes line:

‘He travels the fastest who travels alone’.

Notes on the Text

[Verse 1]

It fell: in this context it happened (at such a time).

rub: short for ‘rubber’. In various games of skill or chance, a rubber is a set of (usually) three games. This game is probably Whist, dating from the early 17th Century. Bridge was played in London in about 1894 but it is not known when it reached India.

oor mon: Scots dialect for ‘our man’.

ahint: behind

[Verse 2]

syne: a word of many meanings, including ‘since’, or ‘directly’. Here it means ‘next after that’, ‘at the next moment’.

trumped his partner’s trick: played a high-value card unnecessarily – his partner had already won the trick. A wasteful error.

garred his partner rue:  gave his partner grief.

[Verse 3]

mon: man

licht: light

wimples: A wimple was a medieval headdress for women, wrapped around the face. Here Kipling seems to mean ‘hides’.

[Verse 4]

wunk: winked. OED cites Kipling for this meaning.

stirrup-peg: usually ‘stirrup-cup’, a drink taken before a journey, in modern parlance ‘one for the road’. In India, a ‘peg’ was a glass of whisky or brandy with soda-water and ice.

[Verse 5]

whusky: whisky

Galashiels: a town in the Scottish Borders.

lowe: ‘flame’. As for ‘wunk’ above, Kipling is cited in OED’s definition.

keeks: ‘looks’, ‘peeps out’.

[Verse 6]

third: thread.

a wee: in this context a little way.

Skye: in this context a terrier (a small dog) from the island of that name off the north-west coast of Scotland.

slobbers: slavers or dribbles

[Verse 7]

ell: an obsolete English measure of length, = 45 inches or 1·14 metres. The poet exaggerates a little.

lang: long.

[Verse 8]

smirch: a stain or smudge.

pouther: face-powder, applied by ladies as part of very discreet make-up.

auld: old

[Verse 9]

Trichi: an abbreviation of Trichinopoly (Now Tiruchirappalli) in Tamil Nadu in southern India, where fine cheroots and cigars are produced.

Havanas: excellent cigars from Cuba; see “The Bethrothed” .

[Verse 10]

nicht: night

braid: broad, which in this context probably means coarse or obscene.

[Verse 11]

fou: drunk (OED) It is also French for various kinds of madness.

ken: in this context, ‘understand’.

cannie: (or ‘canny’); shrewd, worldly-wise, knowing.

[Verse 12]

siris: plants in the legume genus Albizia (also known as silk trees).

shaws: thickets or clumps of trees; See our Notes to “ “Friendly Brook” in A Diversity of Creatures.

sere:  dry, withered.

breeks: trousers or breeches.

gowden: golden.

gaed to the Kirk: went to the church.

[J McG./J.R.]

©John McGivering and John Radcliffe 2010 All rights reserved