In Partibus

Notes on the text

(by David Page. The verse and line numbers below refer to pages 193-196 of the Authorised Edition of Abaft the Funnel published by Doubleday and Page, New York, in 1909)


[Title] In Partibus:  in partibus infidelium means, in Latin, ‘in the lands of the unbelievers’. Almost certainly also intended as a pun on ‘omnibus’.

[Verse 1, line 1 et seq.] ’bus: abbreviation for ‘omnibus’. In 1889 this was an open-topped double-decked horse-drawn conveyance for the general public, fare one penny. But see also Verse 14, line 5.

[Verse 1, lines 1-6 and Verse 14, lines 1-6] Battersea … Bow … Islington … Highgate … Kew:  are all districts which at one time were separate villages or small towns, before becoming absorbed into Greater London.

[Verse 2, line 1] smut: a particle of soot generated by the coal-burning fires in London.

[Verse 3, line 1] greasy soup-toureen: A soup tureen is a large bowl from which soup would be ladled out to diners. The analogy suggests that the sky looked like an inverted unwashed tureen.

[Verse 3, line 6] row: noise.

[Verse 4, line 5] four packed miles of seething vice: See the headnote.

[Verse 5, line 3] Suez unto Sandy Hook: Suez is the southern terminus of the Suez Canal. Sandy Hook is a promontory in New Jersey, U.S.A. about 15 miles south of the tip of Manhattan Island.

[Verse 5, line 4] Calais to Port Said: Calais is a port on the northern coast of France opposite Dover in England, at about the narrowest point of the English Channel. Port Said is the northern terminus of the Suez Canal.

[Verse 6, line 3] gas: In the 1880s, London was lit by gas-lamps in the streets.

[Verse 7, line 3] Pear’s balloon: probably an advertising gimmick by the A. & F. Pears Soap Company, who made a high quality transparent soap, and secured an advertising coup by obtaining the rights to Sir John Everett Millais’ painting “Bubbles” (1829-1896). (

[Verse 7, line 4] Barnum’s: the celebrated circus created by Phineas T. Barnum (1810-1891) and James A. Bailey (1847-1906). The Barnum and Bailey circus was in London at Olympia in 1889. Kipling recorded in a letter to Mrs Edmonia Hill that on 14 November, three days after writing this poem,

Pip (his cousin Philip Burne Jones) … carried me off to see Barnum’s which is close to The Grange. A howling jam—the monsters made me almost sick. I do not like people without legs or hands and I hate a two headed boy. But ‘tis a great show: tho’ I never saw the tenth of it.
(Letters, ed. T. Pinney, Vol.1, p.365)

[Verse 8, line 2] mango-tope: a grove of mango trees.

[Verse 8, line 3] dewy cane: sugar cane.

[Verse 8, line 6] New washed—with sunlight soap: a pun on the light of the sun and the Sunlight soap manufactured by Lever & Co. By the end of 1887, Lever’s were making 450 tons a week of this soap in the north of England (see the Unilever web-site).

[Verse 11, line 2] liver pill: thought to help ‘liverish’ conditions caused by such things as over-indulgence. Dr Carter’s Little Liver Pills were probably the best known brand.

[Verse 12, line 6] hogs his bristles short: wears his hair cut short.

[Verse 14, line 5] “Bus!”: meaning ‘enough’, ‘finish’, in Hindi. (usually said twice). In Abaft the Funnel, this line has ” ‘Bus”, corrected in the Sussex Edition to make the pun more obvious.

[D. P.]
©David Page 2006 All rights reserved