London Town


(notes by John Radcliffe and John McGivering) 


Published in Echoes by Two Writers in Lahore in August 1884. Listed in ORG as No 118.

Collected in

  • The Outward Bound Edition vol xvii (1900)
  • Edition de Luxe vol xviii (1900)
  • The Sussex Edition vol xxxv (1939)
  • The Burwash Edition vol xxviii (1941)
  • Early Verse by Rudyard Kipling (1986) Ed. Andrew Rutherford , p. 241
  • Cambridge Edition (2013) Ed. Pinney, p. 1242. .

The poem

A sad piece about loss, perhaps lost love. The dear friend of the story-teller is lost in godless, wicked, stony London, amid the tumult of the traffic, the miles of granite streets, and rhe crowded millions of people.

Perhaps it echoes the young Kipling’s unrequited passion for Florence Garrard, whom he had loved since meeting her with his sister at what he called the House of Desolation at Southsea, and who had recently broken off their relationship.

Kipling did not, in fact. know London very well at this stage in his life, apart from Kensington, where his ‘Aunt Georgie’ and the ‘three dear ladies’ (the Craikes) lived. In “The Sudder Bazaar” in the same volume, he writes nostalgically of ‘the wet streets of London’ . Later, in “The Broken Men” (1901), he expresses longing for London, though in “In Partibus” (1901), his feelngs are decidedly mixed.


Kipling left United Services College in July 1882, where he had read widely and written copiously, determined to become a published poet. In October, at the age of sixteen, he became Assistant Editor of the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore. where he was plunged into the daily grind of newspaper production, in a strange land, with a fearfully demanding climate, and a heavy workload. During 1883 there were periods when he was left alone to manage the paper.

He was sustained by his home life with his parents, though there were times when they were away, and – from December of that year – by happy collaboration with his young sister ‘Trix’, with whom he played word games and other literary diversions, and wrote parodies. Several of these were published in Echoes by Two Writers.
Harry Ricketts writes (p.63)

It is easy to see why Rud found literary parody so appealing. An outsider longing to be an insider, he could show that he at least knew his way around ‘the realms of gold’, however difficult he might sometimes find the worlds of India and Anglo­ India. Besides, away from the daily drudgery of the CMG, here was an area where he could safely show off his wit and ingenuity.

However, Ricketts points out that nearly half of his contributions to Echoes had been written the previous year or earlier, and that some poems ‘contained a heavily disguised biographical underlayer. Echoes not only allowed Rud to recycle older work as intentionally parodic, but provided him with a ready made mask for his private emotions.’

As Louis Cornell notes, (pp.67/8), now that Rudyard was in India his audience had changed. At school he had been able to write public poems for the United Services College Chronicle and private poems expressing his personal feelings, which he kept from his schoolfellows and showed only to a few confidantes, in particular Edith Plowden, Edith Macdonald, and his mother Alice Kipling. Both genres had figured in Schoolboy Lyrics.
Cornell writes (pp.67/71) that in Lahore:

Kipling began to search for a way to synthesize his private and public writings. If his poetic impulse could no longer be satisfied by writing love poems for Florence and exercises for the approval of his mother, then he would have to find a way to adapt his talent to his Anglo-Indian audience. If he could not pursue the line of development that had led to Sundry Phansies [one of the notebooks from his schooldays] he would have to experiment until he found a new line that would satisfy both himself and the readers of the Pioneer and the Civil and Military Gazette

… the chief significance of Echoes is that it looks both backwards and forwards: it marks the dividing line between Kipling’s juvenile verse and the beginning of his career as an Anglo-Indian poet. Verse that had been written two or more years earlier and either copied into Sundry Phansies or put aside, was here presented for the first time to the public, set forth side by side with the parodies – or ‘echoes’ as Rudyard and Trix preferred to call them – that made up the bulk of the volume.

“London Town”, suffused with melancholy, clearly looks back to his earlier work.

See also “The City of the Heart”, Chapter 1 of The Light That Failed, “Baa Baa Black Sheep”, “Caret”, “The Lesson”, “Credat Judaeus”, “Solus cum Sola” and “Commonplaces”..

It is interesting, in the broader context of Kipling’s writing over the years, that in 1900 he decided to include Schoolboy Lyrics and Echoes in The Outward Bound Edition and Edition de Luxe, but not in the later Inclusive Edition of the verse (1919) or the later Definitive Edition; he then brought them back in the final Sussex and Burwash.editions.

©John Radcliffe and John McGivering 2017 All rights reserved