The Legend of the Pill

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


This poem was published in the Pioneer on September 5th 1885 and in the Pioneer Mail of September 6th, with no individual title but under the general heading of “BUNGALOW BALLADS”. It was unsigned, but is authenticated as by Kipling by inclusion in Scrapbook 2 of his own press cuttings in the Kipling Papers at the University of Sussex Special Collections.

It was never collected by Kipling but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 283) and Pinney (p. 1763).

For “The Bungalow Ballads” see our notes on the first of the series “The Tale of Two Suits”.


The Civil and Military Gazette for 9 July 1885 had carried an item (unsigned) on a Dr. Jager of Vienna and his “anthropine” personality-changing pills. Rutherford attributes the article to Kipling, who was then in Simla, although there is no external evidence for his authorship. The pills were claimed to be
the sublimated psychical essence of individuals, by him prepared boxed, and sold , producing complete personality change in the consumer. The CMG article suggested:

His preparations open out the most unpleasant possibilities of wholesale demoralisation as well as benefaction. Conceive …. the disastrous effect that a box of assorted psychical pills … would produce in this country, if administered by unscrupulous hands. The Commander-in-Chief might imbibe the harmless whisky peg and be straightway transmuted in soul to one John Bright …

John Bright, 1811-1889 was a Radical statesman and orator, and a strong opponent of militarism in any form. The article goes on to many other examples.

The Poem

The poet continues the theme of the article. He tells how he bought an assortment of Dr Jager’s pills, intending to distribute them carefully and make Simla “nice”. But his terrier upset the box and his servant mixed them all in picking them up. At great length and in exhaustive and obscure detail, he describes the subsequent confusion, displaying an extraordinary range of historical characters with whom he affects to be familiar.

Notes on the Text

[Verse 1]

My Muse Mendacity the Nine Muses were the sources of inspiration in Greek mythology. There was no muse of Mendacity – lying!

crammer lie (slang).

trailing clouds of glory quotation from William Wordsworth’s Ode: “Intimations of Immortality”: ‘trailing clouds of glory do we come/From God, who is our home.’

Anglice ‘in English’.

[Verse 2]

St. Ursula saint and martyr, who, according to legend, was put to death with 11,000 other virgins near Cologne.

Bradlaugh Charles Bradlaugh (1833-1891), a free-thinking MP who refused to take the customary oath on entering Parliament.

Pitt and Fox William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806) and Charles James Fox (1749-1806), the two leading British politicians of their day.

P.M.O. Postal Money Order.

[Verse 4]

Skye A breed of terrier.

Hussein Buksh Kipling’s servant.

oolta-pooltaed confused, mixed up.

[Verse 5]

Hortense Schneider French actress and singer (1838-1920), particularly known for her performances in Offenbach’s “La Vie Parisienne”.

Paradise Hotel a fashionable hotel in Simla.

U.S.C. United Services Club.

Bons mots witty sayings, clever repartee (French).

[Verse 6]

H—e Probably Allan Hume (1819-1912), ex-Indian Civil Service, member of the Theosophical Society and founder member of the Indian National Congress.

C——n Sir Auckland Colvin (1838-1908), the Financial Member of the Viceroy’s Council. cf. “The Rupaiyat of Omar Kal’vin” (Departmental Ditties).

Egypt hostilities were still in progress in the Sudan.

[Verse 7]

V——-y Viceroy.

Machiavelli Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), Italian statesman, famous for his book The Prince, which holds that to achieve his aims, a ruler should set aside any considerations of morality and be guided only by the end in view.

Simsly Sant unidentified. Perhaps derived from the names of two famous singers, John Sims Reeves (1818-1900) and Sir Charles Santley (1834-1922).

H-s E——-y His Excellency.

Giers the Comte de Giers, the Foreign Minister of the Russian Empire,

Garrick David Garrick (1717-79), the famous actor.

A—h D——n M. Arch-Deacon the Venerable Henry James Matthew from the See of Lahore.

[Verse 8]

Elysium another well-known Simla hotel.

Ada Isacs [sc. Isaacs] Menken actress (1835-68)who achieved considerable notoriety for appearing ‘in a state of virtual nudity’ bound to the back of a horse in a dramatization of Byron’s “Mazeppa”. She had many husbands and lovers, and many literary friends.

Peliti’s The famous cafe and confectioner’s in Simla.

W.E.G. William Ewart Gladstone, English Liberal statesman, who served as Prime-Minister in several Parliaments over the latter part of the 19th Century.

Jakko The hill above Simla. The road round it was a favourite ride.

Hunt probably “Orator” (Henry) Hunt (1773-1835), a demagogic politician.

Savonarola Fra Girolamo Savonarola (1452-98), Dominican monk and famous preacher who played a leading role in Florence after the expulsion of the Medici.

Lowe probably Robert Lowe, Viscount Sherbrooke (1811-92), a well-known political figure.

Kant Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), famous German philosopher.

Schopenhauer Artur Schopenhauer(1788-1860), another German philosopher, notable for his pessimism.

Bismarck Otto von Bismarck (1815-98), first Chancellor of a united Germany.

Keats John Keats (1795-1821), English Romantic poet.

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), American author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

[Verse 9]

Richter Johann Richter (1763-1825), German novelist and humorist.

Poe Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49), American poet and writer of short stories.

Grimaldi Joseph Grimaldi (1799-1837), famous clown of English pantomime. His memoirs were edited by Charles Dickens.

Wainwright Thomas Wainewright (1794-52), painter, art-critic, forger and probable poisoner.

Burke and Hare notorious Edinburgh body-snatchers who killed their victims in order to sell their bodies for dissection. Burke was hanged in 1829.

Reynolds Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92), portrait-painter and first President of the Royal Academy.

Von Bulow Count Friedrich von Bulow (1755-1816), Prussian general.

Cavour Camillo Bensi, Conte di Cavour (1810-61), played a large part in the unification of Italy.

[Verse 10]

hat difficulty (slang).

seq. et ante. before and after (Latin).


©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved