A Prologue

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


This poem was written for a theatrical performance at Snowdon, residence of the Commander-in Chief Sir Frederick Roberts, at Simla on 25 July 1887, and spoken by Kipling’s sister Trix (left) It was printed on a programme card for the occasion, which is now in the Kipling Papers in the University of Sussex Special Collections.

It was published in the Pioneer on 1 August 1887, with two couplets omitted, and reprinted in the Pioneer Mail on 7 August. It is unsigned but authenticated by inclusion in Kipling’s Scrapbook 3 of his own press cuttings in the Kipling Papers.

It was not otherwise published by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 380) and Pinney (p. 1858), as well as on this site.

The Poem

The first part asks for forgiveness for any faults in the performance which can be blamed on the extreme newness of the venue. The second introduces the cast and explains that they take part for a serious purpose. It contains two dreadful puns: playgiarise and eluciadates.

The third explains that purpose: to raise money to bring nurses to provide the woman’s art for Thomas Atkins, Private of the Line, and his comrades, because their fellow soldiers lack the skills to save them.


The performance took place in a new ballroom specially designed to serve as a theatre, and was attended by a large audience, including the Viceroy and Lady Dufferin. It was in aid of Lady Roberts’s fund for providing summer homes in the Hills for nursing sisters who were to be brought out from Britain, in a scheme she had initiated, to provide skilled nursing in European military hospitals in India.

The aim was to reduce the high mortality rate among British troops in the severe Indian conditions. See “Kipling and Medicine” by Dr Gillian Sheehan.

Notes on the Text

Mark how the hare’s-foot trenches on the crow’s
And damn an actor for too red a nose.

A hare’s foot was used to apply face-powder. Geoff Maloney writes:

The make-up wasn’t done well, the hare’s-foot ‘brush’ exaggerated the crow’s feet (wrinkles) making them look more deeply etched (trenches), and everybody looked as if they had red noses from too much pasty white upon the cheeks.

Peliti’s The famous cafe and confectioner’s in Simla. (right) A favourite meeting place for a gossip.

the Gaiety a new Gaiety Theatre had opened in Simla at the beginning of June.

Din ‘the faith!’ — the cry of excited Muslims — punning here on the names of Major and Mrs. Deane, veterans of the Simla theatre. See “In the Matter of a Prologue.”

Lucia the performance included an ‘operatic burlesque’ from Lucia di Lammermoor, the tragic opera by Donizetti.

the Chief’s Army men, under the Commander-in-Chief (left).

Dragon’s Teeth armed men, who in Greek myth sprang from the earth when it was sown with the teeth of a dragon which had guarded the well of Ares, god of war, as in Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece.

Azrael angel of Death in Islamic legend.


©Philip Holberton and JOhn Radcliffe 2020 All rights reserved