First published in the Civil and Military Gazette, 25 January 1890. Collected Volume IX, No. 61 of Turn-overs, 1890, and in Abaft the Funnel (Unauthorised and Authorised Editions), 1909.
Kipling had been living in Villiers Street, London for three months before this story was first published although it was actually written two months after his arrival, as will be seen from the Commentary.
The narrator and three other men have been entertained at the house of a ‘highly distinguished politician’, and on leaving it, they walk out into one of the horrendous fogs that engulfed London from time to time in those days.
In addition to the narrator, the travellers are identified as ‘an eminent novelist … of the Extreme Left’, ‘a pink-eyed young gentleman who lived on his income’ (i.e. did not work for a living), and a ‘gentleman who knew more than he ought … whom, for the sake of brevity, we will call Captain Kydd’.
They succeed in hailing a four-wheeler cab which is slowly feeling its way through the fog, and the cabby agrees to try to take them to their destination. Most of the rest of the story concerns the roundabout route taken and their collisions with various pieces of street furniture. The story ends with an anecdote about the Liberal Prime Minister, William Gladstone.
A diary letter to Mrs Edmonia Hill for 3-25 December 1889 covers the period during which this story was generated, and records two non-family dinners in the first twelve days. Letters, Vol.1, ed. Pinney (p.369-371, 376).
Kipling begins on 3 December:
A day of Death and Fog. . . . Dined at 6 (ungodly hour) with Hooper of the Spectator. Met a wild socialist who told me that the workingman was a god. “Then kill him” said I and levanted.
The entry for 14 December actually refers to this story, with a slight variation in the title:
Dined with Dawkins Ex-Sec to Cross now gone over to the Treasury and Goschen’s Sec. Met there Wynn, Cross’s new Sec. and a man without any features; also a haggard and unkempt Virgin of great age who pretended to be lamb … By the way the cabby drove me somewhere into the Zoo on being told to go to West Brompton … Stayed talking with Dawkins (India office shop) till 1.A.M. He told me a tale of Gladstone wh. I sent to the C & M. See “The Adoration of the Magi”. It’s quite true!
The named people are:
- George Hooper (1824-1890), a London journalist on the staff of the Spectator who at one time edited a Bombay newspaper.
- (Sir) Clinton Edward Dawkins (1859-1905), Ex-secretary to Cross.
- Viscount Richard Assheton Cross (1823-1914), Secretary of State for India.
- Lord George Joachim Goschen (1831-1907), Chancellor of the Exchequer.
- Arthur Watkin Williams Wynn (1856-1946), Secretary to Cross.
- William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898), Liberal Prime Minister.
This story seems to this Editor to be a composite, made up from the two occasions described in the letters above.
The dinner on 3 December was more of a literary occasion and took place on a foggy day, whereas that of 14 December was of a political nature. Furthermore, the cabby took a very indirect route from Villiers Street to the Dawkins’ in West Brompton via the Regents Park Zoo, although that was going to the dinner rather than leaving it as happened in the story.
The ORG editors were unsure whether Kipling is referring in this story to an actual experience and actual people or not, though it should be remembered that they did not have the advantage of having the Letters edited by Prof Pinney available. They suggested that “Captain Kydd”, if a literary character, might be W.E. Henley (1849-1903) (the original of Long John Silver in R.L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island); the “eminent novelist” who was “of the Extreme Left” was harder to identify—or even to guess at; Robert Williams Buchanan (1841-1901) is a possible candidate.
©David Page 2006 All rights reserved