The Light tnat Failed

Notes on Chapter XIV

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.

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[Page 229, Heading] This verse: “Yet, at the last ,,,” seems appropriate both as an action narrative, and an indirect ‘coded’ narrative for Dick’s final hours. The last line links with Dick’s “Oh God has been most good to me” (Page 287 line 27).
Kizilbashes a Turkish nickname meaning ‘Redheads’ was given to Shiite emigrants from Iran (then Persia) There are also ‘Kizilbashes’ in Afghanistan. The name comes from the red caps worn by Shiites in Iran.
Kafirs This probably refers to a native of Kafiristan, an area of Afghanistan south of the Hindu Kush. The word means “Land of the Kafir“ in Persian. It is also the scene of the adventures of Dravot and Carnehan in “The Man Who Would be King” (Wee Willie Winkie)
reiver name given to Northumbrian and Scottish families who, from the 14th century fought for 400 years an endless series of raids and reprisals on each others territories, across the border between England and Scotland. Known as ‘Border Reivers’, they were tough and predatory, and lived by their own laws. The word is generally used to describe raiders, outcasts or spoilers.

[Page 230, line 8] bloater a cured and smoked herring.

[Page 232, line 13] shaving as a dangerous exercise ordinary ‘cut-throat’ razors with an open blade were the norm, but a protective guard could be fitted.

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[Page 234 , line 7] A Boy’s Best Friend is ‘is Mother a casually introduced forgotten popular song, which, however, links to the novel’s ‘Dedication’, and to Dick’s poignant lines in Ch XV, (Page 287 lines 25-27) as an expression of loss and desolation just before his death:

‘What luck! What stupendous and imperial luck!’ said Dick. It’s just before the battle, mother…’

The song was composed by Joseph P. Skelly, words by Henry Miller, published by Howard & Co, London, 1885. (British Library)

[Page 234 , line 11] school-board certificates refers to the 1870 Education Act giving free elementary education for all, which was under the under control of locally-elected School Boards.

[Page 235 , line 31] I must have…provided for In those days a London bachelor could live well on £200 a year. If £2,000-£3,000 were invested at 5% it would yield from £100 to £150 a year, and he would be comfortably off.

[Page 235 , line 33] heft American slang for lift, push or judge weight, as in the English derivative ‘hefty’, used on a number of occasions in Stalky & Co.

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[Page 238 , line 10] Keep to the River a safety instruction, meaning avoiding the area which is the junction of Waterloo Road and York Road in London, a neighbourhood with many public houses. This shortcut would avoid the longer riverside walk, but would be less safe.

[Page 240, line 4] blind as in ‘blind drunk‘, here.

[Page 240, line 26] The old business prostitution.

[Page 240, line 28] paid my premium suggests a sort of barmaid apprenticeship which could be Kipling’s invention. But apprenticeship of young women in retail distributive trade, such as drapery, was common practice in England up to World War 1. The living-in system was open to abuse, especially in central London, where ‘latchkey’ facilities (allowing the young women to let themselves in and out), and meagre wages, could expose the girls to moral danger.

[Page 241, line 7] penny-in-the-slot
the first cash register was invented in 1879; an early type of which is referred to here.

[Page 242, line 8] muffins the muffin man with his handbell was then a familiar sight on London streets. (Muffins are soft little cakes, eaten hot with butter).

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[Page 244, line 17] Do unto others as you would be done by a variant on Lord Chesterfields (1694-1773) ‘Advice to his Son‘: ‘Do as you would be done by is the surest method I know of pleasing’. Also it is reminiscent of the name of character of ‘Mrs Do-As-You-Would-Be-Done-By’ in Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies (1863), significantly, in our context, a novel about the treatment of children.

[Page 246, line 7] Your bar success the legal reference is deliberate and characteristic sarcasm on Dick’s part.

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[Page 248, line 31] brevet rank army term for a rank without pay.

[Page 249, line 12] counter-jumpers male shop assistants who who would jump over counters when moving around the shop.

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[Page 250, line 30] prigging An old slang term (from as early as the 16th century) meaning petty theft. [OED]

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[Page 256, line 4] He saved others, himself he cannot save From Matthew 27,41: ‘Likewise also the chief priests mocking him,with the scribes and elders said: he saved others; himself, he cannot save’.

[Page 257, line 17] for old sake’s sake’ This phrase has a remarkable literary resonance and appeal, in its evocation of longing, nostalgia and past experience, both before and after The Light that Failed. It is most recognisable in Kipling’s late story “Dayspring Mishandled” (Limits and Renewals):

He (Castorley) also ’ for old sake’s sake’ as he wrote to a friend ,went out of his way to review one of Manallace’s books with an intimacy of unclean deduction…

Manallace devises an elaborate plan of revenge on Castorley, a Chaucerian expert, by deceiving him with a Chaucerian forgery, for his desertion of ‘Dal Bezanquen’s mother. The quotation is from Charles Kingsley’s Nursery poem “The Lost Doll”:

I found my poor little doll, dears
As I played on the heath one day;
Folks say she is terribly changed dears,
For her paint is all washed away,
And her arms trodden off by the cows, dears,
And her hair not the least bit curled;
yet for old sake’s sake, she is still, dears,
The prettiest doll in the world.

The doll in the story is ‘Dal’s betrayed and deserted mother, and, in the context of The Light that Failed a symbol of childhood innocence and lost love. Kipling also used it as a refrain, in each verse of “A Ballad of Burial” (Departmental Ditties’1886) e.g. :

If down here I chance to die,
Solemnly I beg you take
All that is left of ’I’
To the Hills for old sake’s sake
Pack me very thoroughly
In the ice that used to slake
Pegs I drank when I was dry-
This observe for old sake’s sake.

The context of the poem is very similar to Dick’s final journey to the place he loved the most.

The expression also occurs in Chapter II of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson:

He began to go wrong,wrong in mind, and though of course I continue to take an interest in him for old sake’s sake,as they say .

W B Yeats uses it in verse 4 lines 8-10 of his beautiful lyric poem “Broken Dreams” in The Wild Swans of Coole (1919):

…leave unchanged
The hands that I have kissed
for old sake’s sake.

It also appears in George Orwell’s novel Coming Up For Air (1939):

‘I bought the pipe just for old sake’s sake, to put a half crown in Elsie’s pocket’


It is typical of Kipling to be fascinated by the effect of the small substitution of ‘sake’s’ for ‘time’s’. As he said in another context in “Proofs of Holy Writ”, ‘God! That so much should lie on a word!’ He was, clearly, not alone in his reaction to, and appropriation of the phrase.

[Page 257, line 21] backsheesh Persian for a tip or backhander. ‘Buckshee’, the soldiers’ slang for ‘free’, derives from it.

[Page 257, line 26] Four thousand pounds at four percent It would seem that £4,000 represents Dick’s savings.

[Page 258, line 3] P & O offices then in Leadenhall Street in the central financial district of London, the ‘City’.

[Page 258, line 9] Tilbury and tender larger ships berthed at Tilbury or Gravesend, and passengers disembarked by ‘tender’; a vessel which attends other vessels, for example also to supply provisions.

[Page 258, line 10] Gallions and docks Gallions Reach skirts Plumstead Marshes on the south side of the Thames and the eastern end of the Royal Dock system on the north. Gallions Station, the terminal of the docks extension of the former Great Eastern railway, crossing the north side of the Royal Albert Dock, is on the riverside with a pier suitable for embarkation. In Ch XV, the embarkation takes place with the vessel in dock, so passengers would have left the train a station or two before Gallions, a mile or so farther eastward.

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[Page 260 line 11] bullock-trunk a strong piece of luggage made of cowhide which used to be carried on the back of a bullock.

[Page 260, line 22] ‘We’ll never come back any more’ Kipling’s own invention, in the spirit of ‘Boy’s Own’ adventure, but imbued with the finality of death.

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[Page 261, line 20] blue cloth leg-bands Puttees, from the Hindu ‘putti’ meaning bandage. From 1886 they were khaki or light brown as used in the British Army. They consisted of a piece of cloth wound spirally from ankle to knee, eventually giving way to today’s gaiters.

©Geoffrey Annis 2006 All rights reserved