His Private Honour

(notes edited by Peter Havholm)


This story was first published in Macmillan’s Magazine, October 1891, and The Eclectic Magazine (New York), December 1891. It was also
published separately in that year (see David Alan Richards, C504).

It is collected in:

  • Many Inventions, page 136
  • Scribner’s Edition, Volume II, page 232
  • Sussex Edition, Volume V, page 227
  • Burwash Edition, Volume V

The story

The story is about the ‘blooding’ of Ouless, a new officer wracked with insecurity, in the context of Ortheris’s campaign to make an unusually awkward group of recruits into soldiers. Ouless strikes out with his cane on parade, when his squad move clumsily in a drill manoeuvre, and – by mistake – strikes Private Ortheris, a proud and experienced soldier, tearing his tunic. He then makes amends by taking the private out shooting, and giving him the opportunity to fight him, man to man. Because Ouless knows more about boxing, he wins the fight, but Ortheris manages to mark his face and is satisfied. The narrator then observes of Ouless that ‘the boy was proven’.

Critical responses

ORG omits the customary comment and summary at the head of its notes on this story, perhaps a sign that its writers did not disagree with the judgment of others that it is not very good.
J M S Tompkins finds that there is a good deal too much of’ the narrator. ‘It is quite unlikely that he would have followed up the Colonel’s rebuke by administering more of the same medicine to Ouless. The focus jerks.’

J.H. Fenwick (in “Soldiers Three” collected in Rutherford’s Kipling’s Mind and Art) finds a ‘loss of tact’ which he sees as disastrous:

[The] narrator, a civilian, is unbearably presumptuous in his outspokenness, and overweening even in drawing attention to his feelings on a matter which should not concern him.

It is difficult, too, for a reader in 2007 not to feel that Ortheris’s persistent, brutal anti-semitism towards a new recruit is at least tolerated—and perhaps even offered as an appropriate initiation rite.

[P. H.]

©Peter Havholm 2007 All rights reserved