Published in the Civil and Military Gazette, 17 April 1883, with the subheading ‘(As lately sung at Calcutta)’ and signature ‘The Other Player’. Kipling used the same pseudonym to sign “A New Departure”, also published in the CMG, presumably with the agreement of his Editor, Stephen Wheeler.
A report on a debate in the Indian Legislative Council on the Ilbert Bill had appeared in the London Press under the heading “Reuter’s Telegrams”, but it was in fact based on an official telegram from the Government of India sent through Reuters. This led to accusations in the Anglo-Indian press of sharp practice by the Government, firstly by giving a biased account of the debate, emphasising the views of the Viceroy and his supporters but not those of the opponents of the Bill, and secondly, by seeking to pass the communication off as an independent Reuters report.
For an account of the controversy over the Bill, see our notes on “A New Departure”.
The poem parodies the duet between Captain Corcoran and Dick Deadeye in Act II of HMS Pinafore: ‘Kind Captain, I’ve important information’. Dick Deadeye is the cool clear-sighted observer who reveals the tangled skulduggery that is going on. This hugely popular light opera, by Gilbert and Sullivan, opened at the Opera Comique in London on 25 May 1878 and ran for 571 performances.
In Gilbert’s original, tar is a sailor, from the expression ‘Jack Tar’. In the vernacular used in the CMG office where Kipling worked, it meant ‘telegram’. (See his own translation in the notes on Verse 2 of “A Cousin’s Christmas Card”) Perhaps the coincidence inspired Kipling’s parody. He had been familiar with HMS Pinafore from his schooldays:
The College was as severely infected with Uncle Remus as it had been with Pinafore and Patience.
(“The United Idolaters” in The Complete Stalky & Co., page 209 line 24).
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