This poem was published in the Civil and Military Gazette on 26 April 1886, with the heading:
‘We learn from Simla that the members of the Financial Committee have already assembled, and are pulling themselves together for their struggle with the work which lies before them. Statistics of a most intricate and searching nature have been demanded. Of so elaborate a nature does the scrutiny promise to be, that a long time must perforce elapse before the necessary tabular statements and details can be prepared and placed in the hands of members; while the sifting of so enormous a mass of information will necessitate Herculean efforts on the part of the Committee.’: Pioneer, April 20th.
There is no signature, but the item is authenticated by inclusion in Kipling’s Scrapbook 3 of his own press cuttings in the Kipling Papers at the University of Sussex Special Collections. It is not otherwise collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 315) and Pinney (p. 1795).
Rutherford notes that a news item from Calcutta, dated 9 February 1886, had announced the membership of the Indian Finance Commission (the ‘Financial Committee.’) Its task was to review the whole pattern of expenditure by all Government departments, both imperial and provincial, throughout India.
The poem satirises the announcements the Commission have made about their task. It will be immense and unprecedented, and there will be a massive report, requiring vast efforts. The public must realise that while they are enjoying themselves at tennis and dinner and dances, these high officials are exerting themselves hugely on their behalf.
However, says the poet, the Commission should remember that lesser officials work just as hard, in greater heat, for much less pay, and don’t shout about it.
The title derives from Ars Poetica by the Roman poet Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus, 65-8 BCE), one of Kipling’s most-loved poets:
Parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus
(The mountains are in labour, the birth will be a ridiculous mouse)
This is one of several poems that Kipling wrote in the form of short musical plays, satirising the operations of the Indian Government, or their policies. See “Trial by Judge”, “The Indian Delegates”, and the one he thought good enough to collect in Departmental Ditties, “The Masque of Plenty”.
Notes on the Text
F——E C——E FINANCE COMMITTEE.
Babu educated English-speaking Bengali. Many Bengalis served as civil servants.
Barcarole a Venetian boat song, as sung by a gondolier.
Extatique invention by Kipling, imitating French ballet instructions. Performing ecstatically.
An elephant-folio, phototype-oleo, Guttenberg-Caxton report
elephant-folio suggests a huge document, and phototype-olio that its production will be technically highly sophisticated. Johann Gutenberg (1400-1468) was the inventor of movable printing type and William Caxton (1422-1491) the first English printer to use it. The Report will be of a scale and complexity formerly inconceivable.
This line is a direct echo of Gilbert and Sullivan’s light opera Patience:
‘An ultra-poetical, super-aesthetical, out-of the-way young man!’
Kipling had been familiar with Patience since his school days:
The College was as severely infected with Uncle Remus as it had been with Pinafore and Patience.
[“The United Idolaters”, in Debits and Credits)
Hon’ble W.W. The Honourable William Wilson Hunter (1840-1900), eminent Anglo-Indian administrator. See “The Quid Pro Quo”.
nem. con. nemine contradicente, with no-one dissenting (Latin).
E——t C.A. Elliot, Chief Commissioner of Assam, President of the Commission.
Mahasu a resort 10 miles (16 km) from Simla.
chuti leave, holiday.
heat is seventy-three 73 degrees Fahrenheit, 22.5 degrees Celsius. Very pleasant compared to the heat in the Plains.
Sam Gerridge a character in Caste, a play by T. W. Robertson, first produced in 1867. See his speech in Act III sc. 1:
‘E’s a pretty one for one of the working classes, ‘e is! ‘Asn’t done a stroke o’ work these twenty year. Now, I am one of the workin’ classes, but I don’t ‘owl about it. I work, I don’t spout.
©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved