The Justice’s Tale


(notes by John McGivering and John Radcliffe)



The second of the first group of fourteen in the series of parodies, “The Muse among the Motors “,  published in the Daily Mail on 5 February 1904. Collected in the Sussex Edition vol. 35, p. 123. (ORG Verse No. 838). It is titled “The Engineer” in some early editions. In the early days of motoring, cars were highly unreliable, and it was common for wealthy car owners to engage an ‘engineer’ who not only drove the car but could make running repairs when they were needed, as they often were.


“Chaucer” This is in the manner of Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340-1400) whose Canterbury Tales written at the end of the 14th century describe how a party of pilgrims. on their way from London to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral, break the monotony of their journey by listening each day to a story told by a different member of the party.

Kipling’s “Prologue to the Master-Cook’s Tale” which follows “His Gift” in Land and Sea Tales is another fragment in Chaucer’s manner with some information about him. Also see Dayspring Mishandled(Limits and Renewals) which turns on a forged Chaucerian manuscript, and “The Consolations of Memory” below.

The ‘Justice’ of the title is a Justice of the Peace, a magistrate—usually a local land-owner—who presides over, among other matters, motoring offences. See “The Village that Voted the Earth was Flat” (A Diversity of Creatures) in which a party of motorists is unfairly fined and held up to ridicule by a local Justice—and spend the rest of the tale taking a fearful revenge on him. See also KJ 299/10.


The Narrator names the character who is to relieve the tedium of the journey by telling a story as the pilgrims ride to Canterbury, in this case, a professional chauffeur, then also known as an ‘engineer’ (see above). Cars of the time were notoriously unreliable, as Kipling recounts in his motoring stories and in Something of Myself, Chapter 7.

This engineer, obviously a know-all, is a very bad driver who drives on his brakes, and has no consideration for others, high or low. He blows his horn at those who get in his way, only stopping for cows and dogs. Not surprisingly he must have come before the Justice for some offence or other.
Ann Weygandt (p. 21), comparing this to “The Master Cook’s Tale”, notes that:

The second, while it contains at least one mistake as obvious as “sterve”, is equally authentic in its general tone, showing the same close observation and attention to detail. A consultation of the Chaucer concordance (analysis of the words Chaucer used) reveals no knowledge on his part of the word “squeeke”, but the following passage on a road-hog has, none the less, a peculiarly Chaucerian air:
For simple people and for lordlings eke
Hee wolde not bate a del but onlie squeeke
Behinde their backes on an horne hie…

Weygandt goes on to comment: ‘To judge by his parodies, Kipling knew the “Prologue to the Canterbury Tales” more intimately than any other piece of Chaucer’s writing. ‘

Harry Ricketts in KJ 305 notes:

As its title implies, “The Justice’s Tale” is one of the parodies
which involves motoring and the law. It also contains a couple of good
jokes. ‘By the Road’ is a nice travesty of the stock medieval phrase
‘By the Rood’ (meaning ‘By the Cross’) and ‘He was more wood
[mad] than bull in china-shoppe’ speaks for itself.

However, while Kipling successfully travesties Chaucer’s habit of slipping in homely
proverbs and colloquialisms and manages quite effectively to echo
something of his slyly guileless tone:
‘Hee was soe wise ne man colde showe him naught
And out of Paris was hys learnyng brought’

A half-nod here to the Prioress, perhaps, the attempts at ‘Chaucerian’
spelling and prosody are too slapdash to produce anything more than
a very generalised and largely visual impression of the original.

Notes on the text

[Lines 3-4]

Hee was soe wise ne man colde showe him naught
And out of Paris was hys learnynge brought.

Here is Chaucer’s Prioress, see Prologue 24.5

And Frensh she spale ful faire and fetisly
After the scole of Syratfir-atte-Bowe.
For French of Paris was to hir unknowe.

Kipling is perhaps also alluding to the fact that, in Chaucer’s time, Paris was Europe’s prime seat of philosophical and theological learning. [D.H.]

[Line 4]

aris:  the French led the way in everything concerning motoring at the time {D.H.].

[Line 5]

Frontlings: in the front of the vehicle.

[Line 5]

wandes: wands – in this context levers.

[Line 9]

eke: also.

[Line 10]

a del:   at all (Wordsworth Edition)

[Line 12]

crope:  crept (?)

[Line 13]

bull in china-shoppe: a bull in a china-shop is a proverbial saying implying a clumsy or dangerous person.

[Line 16}

Than hys dependaunce ever was hys brake.  

The meaning here is not obvious. Perhaps that he was dependant on his employers, whom he was driving around, made him prudent enough to brake for cows and dogs ?  [D.H.]





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