Laid Low


(notes by Philip Holberton, drawing on the work of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)


Published in the Civil and Military Gazette (CMG), 20 October 1884. Pinney writes of this signature:

The initials stand for “Esau Mull”, a pseudonym that RK had used from May, 1884. It is the most frequently-used of his many pseudonyms, for he typically used it to sign his many “Week in Lahore” columns. A ‘Mull’, short for ‘mulligatawny’, is a slang term for a Madras civil servant. ‘Esau’ presumably stands for ‘exile’.

The poem was never collected by Kipling but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 260) and Pinney (p. 1741).

The Poem

A comment on a spoofing letter to the Editor, headed “Laid Low” and signed “A. Radical” in the CMG for 17 November 1884:

SIR,— it is most pleasing to persons of my convictions to see how thoroughly the precepts of my school are being carried out in Lahore, at any rate, in small things as in great. There were, a few days ago, in the Lawrence Gardens, two old trees, situated in a position where their offensive antiquity was especially provoking—placed as they were, right in front of the Montgomery Hall. In this region of recent vegetation they could not fail to attract the attention of the most careless passers-by.

I have reason to believe that they were much admired by that benighted section of the community who consider than antiquity is its claim to admiration in timber, and who consider that is far easier to cut a tree down than to grow one.

I write to express my profound admiration of the exhibition of the spirit of the times which has been shown by the Lawrence Hall Department, in nipping this ridiculous doctrine in the bud, and proving its absurdity, by planting a fine bed of chrysanthemums in the place of the useless old trees. There is a Terminalea, on the left of the Bandstand which looks quite antique already, and the eucalyptus by its side, with the two which form an arch over the roadway, are also beginning to be offensive. Let them be laid low without much delay. Our principles are infallible, and can applied to horticulture with quite as much benefit as to politics.

It is of course possible that Kipling wrote the letter himself, as
a caricature of the tendency of Liberals, like Lord Ripon, to do away with established institutions which have been cherished over the years. The poem suggests that the new ones, however showy, are bound to fail.


Notes on the Text

[Verse 2]

Jamais never (French).

nevaire joking French pronunciation of “never”.

[Verse 3]

malli gardener.

[Verse 4]

Dekho look, look here.

Ye burra hai this is big.

chota small.

Iswisti, baito for this reason, sit.

cut kurro do a cutting (caricaturing an ignorant attempt at Hindustani).

umbar tall.

[Verse 5]

kumkur gravel.


©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved