The Light that Failed

Notes on Chapter VIII

These notes by Geoffrey Annis are based on those prepared for Vol. V of the ORG, published in 1970. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan Uniform Edition of The Light that Failed, first published in 1899 and frequently reprinted since.

page 1

[Page 120, Heading] This is a verse from the poem “Hiawatha” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), a favourite of Kipling’s. It evokes the male camaraderie of this chapter.

[Page 120 line 15] Young lambs to sell…” a 3-line verse from “The Vendor’s Song” by the American poet Adelaide Crapsey (1878-1914), known as a nursery rhyme since the 17th century.

[Page 121 line 10] Apollo does not always stretch his… In Greek mythology, Apollo, the son of Zeus and Leto, was the leader of the Muses and the God of Music and Poetry. The previous linking speech: ‘Sunday, Monday …line’, suggests a possible confusion with Apelles, a celebrated Greek painter, famed for his dedication and regular practising; hence the proverb ‘Nulla dies sine linea’ (‘not a day without a line’).

[Page 121 line 16] cobblers’ wax an adhesive resin used for waxing thread. The reference to the schoolboy joke of placing it on another’s chair is a tiny but significant image of male camaraderie.

[Page 122 line 8] a true bill a part of the procedure for trial by indictment of a Grand Jury. The charge is called a ‘bill’; if it is found by the Jury that there are good grounds for a trial, they find a ‘true bill’.

[Page 122 line 21] Progly or Snigly schoolboy jargon, appropriate in this context, appearing to refer to Portsmouth or Southsea.

[Page 122 line 27] Odessa grain-boat Odessa, in Ukraine, was the principal Russian Black Sea port at that time, shipping large quantities of grain as a major export. The ship would have been travelling east, up the English Channel, in the opposite direction to the Barralong (see the note to Chapter VII, page 104 line 32).

[Page 123 line 6] trees Stretchers to keep boots and shoes in good shape.

[Page 123 line 10] sambhur-skin the sambhur (sambhar or sambar) is an Indian hill-deer, an impressive animal, standing nearly five feet high, deep brown in colour, with mane-like neck hair. There is a reference to a hunted sambhur in “Mowgli’s Brothers” in the Jungle Book.

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[Page 124 line 32-33] spray … charcoal unfixed over night refers to the advisability of ‘fixing’ charcoal drawings with a sprayed mixture of shellac and alcohol. This is another example of Kipling’s knowledge of, and interest in, the technical processes used in painting and drawing, thanks to his father and uncles.

[Page 126 line 19] blood-stained execution-ground of Canton This refers to the public execution of criminals by beheading. Canton was then the great commercial centre of southern China.

[Page 126 line 30] the Egyptian Medal first awarded by Queen Victoria for the campaign of 1882. It continued to be issued for all Egyptian campaigns up to and including 1889.

[Page 126 line 33] Blake William Blake (1757-1827). Notable English mystic, poet, and artist. His output of illustrations and engravings was enormous. His imaginative talent and magnificent colouring was doubtless the inspiration for the reference to ‘succulent pink’ at page 127 line 1.

[Page 127 line 22] sepia a brown pigment from a cuttlefish’s ink-sac. A permanent colour after treatment with dilute alkali and hydrochloric acid.

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[Page 129 line 14] Medes, Parthians, Edomites an echo of Acts 2,8-9: ‘And how hear we every man in our own tongue wherein we were born ? … Parthians and Medes and Elamites…

[Page 130 line 33] Society Islands part of a chain of islands in eastern Polynesia in the South Pacific, of which Tahiti is the chief of the group.

[Page 131 line 30] “Neither the angels in Heaven…” from stanza V of “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849). Kipling adapted the name to ‘lovely Mehitabel Lee’ in “Study of an Elevation, in Indian Ink”, a satirical poem about a beautiful girl marrying an ambitious but incompetent colonial official (Departmental Ditties).

Potiphar Gubbins, C.E.,
Is as coarse as a chimpanzee
And I can’t understand why you gave him your hand
Lovely Mehitabel Lee.

(Verse 3)

The ‘Poe’ is a reference to Maisie (see the Introduction), and the ‘demon’ may well have been an echo for Kipling of his own inspirational ‘daemon’.

[Page 133 line 3] not by fasting and prayer paraphrases Matthew 17,21: ‘Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.’ This is another reference, through Dick’s voice, to Kipling’s own notion of creative inspiration, his ‘Daemon’.

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[Page 133 line 22] one of the railway bridges Hungerford Bridge, directly overlooked from what is now Kipling House (see the note to page 39 line 4 and following) takes trains to and from Charing Cross Station.

[Page 134 line 11] What a city to loot Field-Marshall Blucher, who commanded the Prussian army at Waterloo, when the Prussians were in alliance with the British against the French, came to London for a thanksgiving service after the battle. He looked out from St Paul’s across the City of London, and declared: ‘Was fur plunder!’.

[Page 134 line 17] Kensal Green All Souls’ Cemetery at Kensal Green in north west London.

[Page 135 line 1] The Life of the Nilghai Kipling’s own invention, and an echo of Dick’s swingeing retaliatory criticism’s of the Nilghai’s journalistic style in Chapter IV.

[Page 135 line 3] Mahdieh This seems to be another spelling of ‘Mahdi’ or Mahdist’ (see also the note to page 200 Ch XII line 1).

[Page 135 line 13] Moll Roe in The Morning
John Radcliffe writes: like many old folk-songs this ballad had been sung in many different versions over the years, and attributed to many different origins. In compiling these notes Geoffrey Annis noted that:

A favourite pipe tune in 1726 was “Moll Roe,” or “Sweet Molly Roe”, written in praise of Miss Molly Roe, the daughter of Mr Andrew Roe of Tipperary. The song consisted of ten verses, each of which was written impromptu by ten bucks one night at the County Tipperary Clubhouse. See Library Ireland.

However Robert Dawson suggests that in saying that ‘the old chanty … was not a pretty one but Dick had heard it many times before without wincing’, Kipling must have been thinking of the bawdy and rather sadistic 1885 version about a lady of the night, akin to the crude ballads bawled out by tipsy men in their cups.

[Page 135 line 23] Farewell and adieu to you, Spanish ladies an old sea shantie which Kipling parodied as a prelude to the poem “Submarines” in Sea Warfare (1916), the first verse being:

Farewell and adieu to you, Greenwich ladies
Farewell and adieu to you, ladies ashore!
For we’ve received orders to work to the Eastward
Where we hope in short time to strafe’em some more.

The poem now appears in Definitive Verse as ‘1914-18’ with Harwich substituted for Greenwich.

[Page 135 line 32] Ushant to Scilly Ushant, a lighthouse well-known to ships heading north-west up the English Channel, is on the Ile d’Ouessant near Brest in north-west France, some 100 miles south of Lands End, the westernmost tip of the English mainland.

[Page 136 line 3] The Deadman now known as ‘Dodman’; a headland half-way between Falmouth and Fowey in Cornwall.

[Page 136 line 8] Flinging its arms about like a mad windmill refers to the beams of the Ushant Light as seen by the seafarer. See the final verse of “Anchor Song”:

Well, ah fare you well, and it’s Ushant slams the door on us,
Whirling like a windmill through the dirty scud to lee:

[Page 136 line 12] the “Ganges Pilot” the source of this has attracted a great deal of research interest, see KJ 23 and 24. The ORG asserts that the poem is: ‘very obviously Kipling’s own composition, which may have been inspired by an epitaph to Joseph Townend ,.. a Ganges pilot’.

Dr Norman Chevers (1818-1886) was a retired Surgeon-Major to the Bengal Medical Service in 1876 and died 10 years later. E W Martindell in KJ 186 (June 1973) states that Chevers was the author of the poem, which was published in 1869. Dr H E Bustead, author of “Echoes of Calcutta”, has shown that the poem appeared in The Englishman, a Calcutta newspaper, in 1869, below an announcement regarding a tombstone with an epitaph relating to Townsend, which did not contain any of the text of the poem. In The Light that Failed, The Nilghai, however, declares that he got the original: “on a tombstone in a distant land” (page 136 lines 30-31). Of particular relevance, perhaps, is the observation by Nora Crook in KJ 279, referring to the verse on page 137: ‘Shoulder to shoulder, Joe my boy … little brown girl for you”, on which she comments:

…doesn’t it illustrate to perfection Kipling’s genius for piercing to the marrow of a situation? All you really have to know by way of background is that this is a crowded hour of glorious life recollected by the dying Ganges Pilot. Narrative, atmosphere, Kiplingesque obsessions, all are caught in these four dashing lines: violence is juxtaposed with mercy, chivalry with lust, race supremacism with a yearning for miscegenation…

[Page 136 line 17] Rayner,Vickery and Deenes, all dead refers to the high death-rate among war correspondents. (The name ‘Vickery’ recurs as a character in “Mrs Bathurst” in Traffics and Discoveries).
Andrew Lycett (Book 1 Chapter II) interestingly refers to T.H.Vickery, the headmaster of Hope House School, Southsea, which Kipling attended during his Lorne Lodge years. The school prepared pupils for a naval career, so it is possible that Kipling was thus earmarked, and quite likely also that the head’s surname came to mind for this character, who is a naval gunner.

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[Page 137 line 11] hangers a short broad sword which hangs from the belt. The order here is to strike with the flat of the blade.

[Page 137 line 13] Charnock Job Charnock, an English co-founder of Calcutta who died in 1693, frequently referred to by Kipling, and clearly admired for his stubborn resolution. Norah Crook, again, pertinently observes:‘You don’t even have to know that there was a real Charnock – though it enhances ones pleasure to be informed there was.’

[Page 137 line 23] Arquebuses also known as a ‘harquebus’ or ‘hackbut’, a 16th century predecessor to the musket.

[Page 138 line 32] a three-pair back refers to town houses arranged on three floors, two rooms to each floor, one front and one back. (see Jerome K Jerome’s 1908 play “The Passing of the Third Floor Back”)

[Page 139 line 6] “The Men of the Sea” The image of the sea as ‘a wicked old woman’, the lines that follow, and Kipling’s description of their effect on Dick, suggest that the poem was an original verse by Kipling.

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[Page 141 line 12] adipocere a substance formed from body fats and various acids, into which animal matter is sometimes converted; for example, when corpses are buried very closely together.

[Page 143 line 32] Canrobert Francois Certain Canrobert (1809-95) Marshall of France; Commander of the VI Army Corps in the Franco-German war, which won great distinction in the Battle of Gravelotte, close to Metz on the Franco-German frontier.

[Page 144 line 2] Vionville a village in Lorraine near Metz, scene of an 1870 battle in the Franco-Prussian war, in which Bredow’s cavalry, in a dashing attack, temporarily saved the exhausted Prussian infantry, following its defeat of an ill-advised French cavalry charge.

[Page 144 line 15] Schmidt Karl Von Schmidt(1817-75); Prussian cavalry general,with a brilliant reputation in the Franco-Prussian war. He afterwards did much to improve the efficiency of the Prussian cavalry.

[Page 144 line 20] Tempo is Richtung Schmidt’s dictum, meaning ‘timing or pace is right’, and in battle determines the alignment of troops. In this context, ‘timing is all’.

[Page 145 lins 1-5] What did…drinks the story goes that the Governor of South Carolina required the return of a fugitive slave. The Governor of North Carolina, reluctant because of powerful influences on the fugitive’s behalf, gave a banquet for his fellow Governor. When the Governor of South Carolina asked for his slave’s ‘s return, asking “What do you say?”, the Governor of North Carolina replied “It’s a long time between drinks.” The latter phrase has enjoyed some service mess popularity, but Kipling is quoting from R L Stevenson’s “The Wrong Box”, a favourite story.

[Page 145 line 12] Sic volo, sic jubeo, stet pro ratione voluntas an inaccurate quotation from the Roman satirist Juvenal, which should read: ‘Hoc volo, sic jubeo, sit pro ratione voluntas’. ‘I will it, I insist on it. Let my will stand rather than reason’.

[Page 146 line 3] The Night-Piece to Julia by Robert Herrick (1591-1674), a casual but carefully chosen reference. The ‘Julia’ is clearly Maisie in this context of a dedicatory love poem. More precisely the speaker expresses a desire to protect Julia, as Dick has previously and earnestly expressed to Maisie:

No will o’the wisp mislight thee
No snake or slow-worm bite thee.
(Verse 2 lines 1-2)
…let not the dark thee cumber” (Verse 3 line 1)

[Page 146 line 5] not altogether clothed indeed, but in his right mind… this echoes Mark 5,15: ‘…him that was possessed with the devil…sitting and clothed, and in his right mind…’ The quotation refers to one of the miracles wrought by Jesus.


©Geoffrey Annis 2006 All rights reserved