To save trouble

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


This poem was published in the Pioneer on 18 October 1888, and reprinted in the Pioneer Mail on 24 October, with the heading:

Respectfully dedicated to the Native Press, with apologies
to ‘The Curse of Doneraile’.

It was unsigned and not later collected by Kipling, but is authenticated by inclusion in Scrapbook 4 of his own press cuttings in the Kipling Papers at the University of Sussex Special Collections.

It is to be found in Rutherford (p. 432) and Pinney (p. 1913).


Rutherford writes:

On 9 October the Indian Mirror —the principal Indian (as opposed to Anglo-Indian) English-language newspaper—had published a denunciation of Lord Dufferin, claiming he had
‘failed in every respect as a Viceroy’.

On 13 October the Pioneer commented that all things considered, this condemnation was:

‘ … a singularly complete performance and deserves all credit. His Excellency is cursed from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head, in his domestic, his foreign and his financial policy: for all that he has said and not said, for every measure that has been passed during his rule, and for every pie of income tax collected during the same period. He is damned for the Finance Committee, doubly damned for the Public Service Commission, and trebly damned for giving his assent to the Calcutta Municipal Act. Most of all is he devoted to infamy for setting Hindu against Mahomedans … Curiously enough he has not been condemned for the floods in Lower Bengal.

To explain, the Finance Committee had authorised the introduction of Income Tax. The Public Service Commission had disappointed hopes that the Civil Service would be thrown open to Indians. The Calcutta Municipal Act involved wealthy inhabitants paying municipal as well as national taxes.

The poem

As Rutherford puts it, ‘Kipling leaps to the defence of Dufferin by offering, ironically, a curse on the Viceroy so compendious as to render supererogatory any further attacks by the Native Press.’ But the Viceroy himself did not escape his satirical pen. In his earlier poem “Personal Responsibilities” Kipling had blamed Dufferin for his troubles and failings, and used his name for the rhyme at the end of several verses.

Notes on the Text

[The Subheading]

“The Curse of Doneraile” is a 19th century poem by the bard Cormac O’Kelly. He had his watch stolen while visiting Doneraile in County Cork,, whereupon he wrote a poem cursing every aspect of the town and its inhabitants:

May fire and brimstone never fail
To fall in showers on Doneraile;
May all the leading fiends assail
The thieving town of Doneraile;
May every pestilential gale
Blast that curst spot called Doneraile; etc., etc.

[The Poem]

Iswasti for that reason.

shin shin up, climb.

Who killed our kine? A controversy over “Cow-Killing” by Muslims and Europeans had been raised by Hindus to whom the animal is sacred.

who taxed our tin?The introduction of Income Tax, ‘tin’ being slang for ‘cash’.

Who butchered Burma? A reference to the 2nd Burma War of 1885 and the subsequent years of struggle against dacoits. See “The Taking of Lungtungpen” (Plain Tales from the Hills) and the poems:

“A Nightmare of Names”,
“The Ballad of Boh Da Thone”, and
“The Grave of the Hundred Head”.

Collinga, Bow Bazaar areas of Calcutta.

crore ten million.

Ganesh in Hindu mythlogy, an elephant-headed god.

Kali the wife of Siva in the Hindu pantheon.

Hume Allan Hume (1829-1912), one of the founders of the Indian National Congress.

Budrudin Tyabji Muslim activist and important member of the Congress.

Boileaugunge the western area of Simla.

Knockdhrin a well-known residence on Simla Mall.

Naaman In the Old Testament, a Syrian general, miraculously cured from leprosy by Elisha, 2 Kings, 5. 1-14.

His wife In 1885 Lady Dufferin launched a fund for supplying female medical advice and instruction to the women of India. See “For the Women”. Male doctors could not enter the seclusion of purdah, the ‘cloked zenanas’ of the next line of the poem, the women’s quarters.

Six Sixty-six The Number of the Beast: see Revelation13.18 in the New Testament: ‘his number is Six hundred threescore and six.’

Man of Sin See Paul’s Second Epistle to the Thessalonians in the New Testament 2.3:

Let no man deceive you by any means except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.

Das that (German).

wuh that one (Hindi).

Albions, Harrilds printing machines.

pye, dis, dele printing house terms.

Pye break up (e.g. a forme of type)

dis distribute (e.g. individual pieces of type).

dele delete.


©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved