The Man and the Shadow

(notes edited by John Radcliffe. We have been grateful for comments and suggestions from Alastair Wilson and a number of other colleagues)


First published in The Week’s News, February 4th, 1888.

Collected in:

  • Early Verse, Outward Bound Edition vol.17, 1900
  • Early Verse, Edition de Luxe vol. 18, 1900
  • Sussex Edition, vol. 32, p. 13
  • Burwash Edition, vol. 25
  • Early Verse 1879-1889, ed. Andrew Rutherford (1986) p. 190

See David Alan Richards p. 142. The poem is listed in ORG (p. 5194) as no. 292.
Andrew Rutherford (p. 190) notes that when it was collected the fifth verse – ‘What he did I cannot say …’ , which we have placed within brackets, was omitted. In the original version the last line of the tenth verse reads: ‘Doing budh for his betters.. [substituting for them. as Anglo-Indian readers would understand]. Line 4 of the eleventh verse had ‘dire’ for ‘open’, amd line six of the last verse reads: ‘I should think his end, Alas!’.

The poem was written two years after the first edition of Departmental Ditties, and was not included in the later editions of that collection in India or Britain. It was included – as a Departmental Ditty – in the ‘Early Verse’ volumes of the Outward Bound Edition and the Edition de Luxe, but not in later collections until Sussex and Burwash.

The poem

To the fury of rival colleagues a junior official, Hastings Clive Macaulay Bevys, graced with the names of earlier great men, is brilliaintly successful. In his office he has an assistant, Concepcion Gabral, a shadowy figure, ill favoured and of mixed race. No-one is quite sure what he does, other than assisting Bevys.

However, when Bevys is promoted to distant posts, he proves spectacularly incompetent, and is eventually sacked. The clue to the mystery, known to the poet, is that it was the unimpressive but able Gabral who had really been doing the good work.

The metre has a faint echo of “Hiawatha” by Longfellow, a poem which Kipling knew well.


When “The Man and the Shadow” was written, the young Kipling, though only twenty-two, had been working in India for over five years, including several Simla seasons. As generally emerges from Departmental Ditties and his tales of those times, he was familiar with officials and their work, the long hours that men in the ICS were condemned to, often in appalling conditions, the exacting traditions of the service, and the ruthless competition for promotion, which might often depend on personal influence, or on one’s skill in taking the credit for another’s work.

As with many of the Ditties, we do not know whether the elaborate names in the poem concealed a real case that Kipling’s readers would have recognised, or whether he was simply highlighting the tendency of incompetent men to depend on the ability of their juniors.

Notes on the Text

[Verse 2]

Clomb climbed.

Hastings Clive Macaulay Names of three distinguished figures in the history of British India.

[Verse 4]

Saddle-hued brown-faced, the colour of a saddle.

Santu Ribiera Paul Luz Concepcion Gabral Clearly not an Englishman, evidently of mixed race and a Catholic. The names – and Kipling was always very particular about names – suggest a man of partly Portuguese or Goan origin, or from the former Portuguese settlement in Chittagong in Bengal.

In “The Gate of a Hundred Sorrows” in Plain Tales from the Hills, the narrator refers to ‘My friend, Gabral Misquitta, the half-caste…’

[Verse 5]

break the eggs for Bevy’s suction The expression ‘Teach your grandmother to suck eggs’ means to needlessly explain the obvious. The implication is that Gabral was not thought to be doing anything particularly important.

Cut in graduated stages/ Everybody’s else’s wages? The half-serious suspicion by Bevys’s fellows of what his accounts clerk might be up to.

[Verse 6]

into Burmahorbengal Two possible postings for a successful man, to Bengal, Britain’s oldest Indian possession, or Burmah (later Burma, and now Myanmar), the most recent.

[Verse 8]

Where the Englishman so few is There were only a few hundred members of the Indian Civil Service to govern that vast territory. Many Indians would never have encountered an Englishman.

Fell innumerable bastings Innumerable scalding hot reprimands. When roasting a chicken one ‘bastes’ it by pouring hot fat over it.

[Verse 10]

‘Twixt Peshawur and Colaba Peshawar is on the North-West Frontier, on the border with Afghanistan. Colaba is an area of the city of Mumbai (then Bombay)..

A civilian Micawber A civilian with a small ‘c’ would not have the status of an official. Mr Micawber in David Copperfield by Charles Dickens was perpetually in financial difficulties, and ‘hoping for something to turn up’.

Micawber does not strictly rhyme with ‘harbour’ as the poet admits in the following line.

In officiating’ fetters,/ Doing duty for his betters doing office work, presumably of lowly status, in a Government department.

[Verse 12]

his end, alas!/ Will be madness or—Madras. To men in northern India a posting to Madras (now Chennai) in the south, would have seemed a fate worse than death.

©John Radcliffe 2012 All rights reserved