On a recent memorial

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


Published in The Englishman, a leading Calcutta newspaper on 9 January 1885, with the subtitle “An Unofficial Reply” and the signature E.M. Thomas Pinney, in KJ 372, writes of this signature:

The initials stand for “Esau Mull”, a pseudonym that RK had used from May, 1884. It is the most frequently-used of his many pseudonyms, for he typically used it to sign his many “Week in Lahore” columns. A ‘Mull’, short for ‘mulligatawny’, is a slang term for a Madras civil servant. ‘Esau’ presumably stands for ‘exile’.

Kipling’s diary entry for 6 January 1885 includes the item “Sent Englishman set of verses on the Indian Association’s memorial.” (Houghton Library, Harvard University.) The cutting
is to be found in Kipling’s Scrapbook 1 in the Kipling Papers at the University of Sussex).

The poem was never collected in Kipling’s later published works, but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 263) and Pinney (p. 1748).

The Poem

The poem refers to a story reported in the Civil and Military Gazette on 31 December 1884:

The Indian Association, in their recently presented Address to Lord Dufferin, complain that “their countrymen find themselves practically excluded from the commissioned ranks of the Army, and from the privilege of serving as Volunteers…..” Why Bengal, of all peoples in the land, should raise the cry, it is hard to conceive; for there is but little affinity between the spoiled children of the Government and military employ. But an “invidious race distinction” was a safe find under our late lamented Viceroy’s regime; and the Association naturally expected that Lord Ripon’s successor would be equally ready to right imaginary wrongs.

The CMG editorial was suggesting sarcastically that the Indian Association was simply hoping to be able to use arguments with the new Viceroy that had been congenial to his ‘late lamented’ Liberal predecessor, Lord Ripon. The headquarters of the Indian Government was in Calcutta, in Bengal (now Kolkata), and Bengali ‘babus’ – who made excellent clerks – filled the lower ranks of the civil service.

Kipling’s poem, a parody of Robert Browning’s “A Tocatta of Galuppi’s”, is equally dismissive, implying that the Bengalis are playing an old tune. More harshly than the CMG article, he suggests that under a more brutal regime, like the Tsar’s, they would have been hanged for sedition.
Jan Montefiore comments: it is indeed a parody, or rather a burlesque of “A Toccata of Galuppi’s”– the rhymes of the opening stanza directly imitate Browning :

‘Oh Giuseppe, Baldassaro, this is very sad to find !’

Ever since his schooldays Kipling had greatly relished Browning’s poetry. See our notes on “His Consolation”, and “The Flight of the Bucket” .

Notes on the Text

Memorial A memorandum, or formal message.

Verbum sap. Short for verbum sapienti sat est (Latin): ‘A word is enough for the wise’.

As you were a parade-ground word of command. ‘Return to your previous position’.


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