New Songs and Old


(notes by Philip Holberton, drawing on the researches of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)


The article, and the verses within it, were published in the Pioneer on 30 April 1888, with the signature ‘Eliphaz the Temanite’. It was reprinted in the Pioneer Mail on 2 May, the Civil and Military Gazette on 3 May, and The Week’s News on 5 May. It is uncollected, but authenticated by inclusion in Kipling’s Scrapbook 4 of his own press cuttings in the Kipling Papers at the University of Sussex Special Collections.
They are also to be found in Rutherford (p. 402) and Pinney (p. 1883). Pinney includes one verse (4) not included by Rutherford.


Kipling had published a very similar article in the Civil and Military Gazette on 24 June 1884 – see “Music for the Middle-Aged”. See also “Nursery Rhymes for little Anglo-Indians”. This time he was writing in reply to a protest “Songs Old and New” by ‘L.L.‘ in the Pioneer for 26 April.

Eliphaz the Temanite, Kipling’s alias, was the first of “Job’s Comforters” in the Book of Job in the Old Testament. Job was a perfect and upright man. To test him, God allowed Satan to afflict him, destroying his children and all his wealth and covering him with boils, but Job still refused to blame God. Then three friends came to sympathise with him, all saying that he must have done something to anger God—in effect, it was all his own fault.

Kipling is suggesting that if the Anglo-Indians had lost the magic of the old songs, they had no-one to blame but themselves. (Incidentally, he knew the story of Job very well from his childhood: see “Job’s Wife” written in 1880 when he was fourteen.)
All the romantic ‘Old Songs’ he cites would have been familiar in Victorian drawing-rooms.Notes on the Text

Notes on the text

[Verse 1]

The first verse of the old Scots song “Annie Laurie” runs:

Maxwellton’s braes are bonnie,
Where early fa’s the dew,
And t’was there that Annie Laurie
Ga’ed me her promise true.

cus-cus tattie A window screen made of dried cus-cus (grass) roots. The screens being kept wet, their fragrant evaporation as the dry winds blow upon them cools and freshens the house greatly.(Hobson-Jobson).

How shall we sing the old songs in a strange land? This is an echo of Psalm 137. The captive Israelites in Babylon remembered sadly:

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

See also “Christmas in India”.

Nature brings not back the mastodon This is from
“The Epic” by Alfred Lord Tennyson,
lines 36-7.

[Verse 2]

The traditional Scots ballad runs:

On the banks of Allan Water
When brown autumn spread its store
There I saw the miller’s daughter
But she smiled no more
For the summer, grief had brought her
And a soldier false was he
On the banks of Allan Water,
None so sad as she.

Placetne Domini? Does it please you, masters? (Latin).

[Verse 3]

In the original “Auld Robin Gray” the young woman had to leave her lover and marry an older man:

I hadna been his wife a week but only four.
When, mournfu’ as I sat on the stane at the door,
I saw my Jamie’s ghaist – I couldna think it he,
Till he said, “I’m come hame, my love, to marry thee! “

O, sair, sair did we greet, and mickle did we say!
Ae kiss we took – no mair – I bade him gang awa’.
I wish that I were dead; but I’m nae like to dee;
And why do I live to say, “Wae is me”.

[Verse 4]

In the traditional ballad, “The Bailiff’s Daughter of Islington”, a young man is made by his family to leave his love, the Bailiff’s Daughter. Years later she has fallen on hard times, and he meets her on the roadside. In the original, it is the happy ending all are looking for:

‘Before I give you a penny, sweetheart,
Pray tell me whether you know
The bailiff’s daughter of Islington’
‘She’s dead sir, long ago.’

‘If she be dead, then take my horse,
My saddle and bridle also,
And I will go to some far land
Where no one me shall know.’

‘Oh, stay, oh, stay, you goodly youth,
She’s standing by your side.
She is not dead but alive and well
And ready to be your bride.’

Kipling’s version in French has the ring of an interrogation, and decidedly lacks magic:

Je suis pauvre et sans ressource—
Prête: O prête moi ta bourse
Ou ta montre pour me montre confiance—
Femme ! Je ne vous connais
Et s’il faut me donner
Votre nom et des références

[‘I am poor and penniless
Lend—Oh lend me your watch or your purse
To show how you trust me.’
‘Woman ! I don’t know you.
Give me your name
And your credentials’.]

[Verse 5]

These lines come from Sheridan’s play “The School for Scandal” (1777):

Let the toast pass – drink to the lass,
I’ll warrant she’ll prove an excuse for the glass.

mash conquest (slang).

tarts young women (slang), without the modern implication that they are of easy virtue.

nimbu esquash lime cordial.

[Verse 6]

The original is from “Auld Lang Syne” (“Old times, long gone”) by the national poet of Scotland, Robert Burns (1759-96). It is a sentimental expression of mutual affection between friends, commonly sung together at the end of revelry, particularly as midnight strikes for the New Year:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And days of auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear, For auld lang syne
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet, For days of auld lang syne.

Kipling’s version is brutally unsentimental. The singer will invite his unwelcome acquaintances to dinner to repay their hospitality. He will invite them all at the same time to get them all ‘done with’ at once, and there will be no special arrangements.

Kipling admired Burns, however, and was not insensitive to the emotional power of the song. Twelve years later, in April 1900, he wrote “A New Auld Lang Syne” to be sung at a concert in Bloemfontein to welcome contingents of troops from the dominions and colonies who had come to fight in the South African War. See also “The Indian Farmer at Home” (1884).

kallie the degchies ‘tin’ the cooking pots to disguise the taste of brass.[P.H.]

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