Personal Responsibilities

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


This poem was published in the Civil and Military Gazette on 31 January 1887, with the heading:

“Those mechanical means by which alone
the Government coffers can be replenished.”
See Viceroy’s speech to Dufferin Fund,
on 26th instant.’

The poem is unsigned, but 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 was not later published by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 361) and Pinney (p. 1843).

The Poem

The Viceroy has called the levy of taxes a ‘mechanical’ means of replenishing the Government’s coffers. Not so, says the poet, to those who pay taxes it is a highly personal affair to have one’s own coffers depleted for the benefit of government and for the Viceroy. When he is pursued for overdue taxes he will see it as a personal matter between him and the Viceroy. It is Lord Dufferin’s fault and he will say so even at Heaven’s gate.

Perhaps behind these feelings is the knowledge among Kipling’s readers that this Viceroy lived in particularly grand style, sometimes beyond his own means, and that taxes were being imposed at a time when incomes were squeezed by the diminishing value of the rupee. See “Exchange”.


The CMG for 29 January gave the full text of Lord Dufferin’s speech in Calcutta at the second Annual General Meeting of the Countess of Dufferin’s Fund. (In 1885 Lady Dufferin had launched an appeal fund, with which her own name was associated, for giving medical advice and instruction by women to the women of India. See “For the Women” published in February1887.) Lord Dufferin had said:

‘No-one knows better than myself the difficulty of obtaining money in India….but let me tell the Lady President of the Fund [his wife, Lady Dufferin] that it will probably prove a far more graceful, as well as more successful method to throw herself on the generosity of the Indian people, than, as I have been obliged to do, to resort to those mechanical means by which alone the Government coffers can be replenished.’

This was received with ‘laughter and loud cheers.’ An unguarded phrase, from a normally impeccable diplomat, had clearly struck a nerve.

Notes on the Text

dibs slang for money.

red chaprassi official Government messenger.

Achan See Joshua 7.21 in the Old Testament where Achan confesses his sin:

When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold, then I coveted them and took them; and behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent.

He was thereupon stoned to death.

vulcanized hardened, from the process used to make tyres from rubber.

Frederick Temple Hamilton Lord Dufferin’s full names were Frederick Temple Hamilton Hamilton-Temple Blackwood.

Last year’s Act the Income Tax Act, technically No. 2 of 1886. See The Rupaiyat of Omar Kal’vin and The Quid Pro Quo.


©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved