The Song of an Outsider

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


There is a version handwritten by Kipling, signed R.K., undated, probably summer 1883, in the Houghton Library at Harvard University. According to E.W. Martindell, it was originally sent to the Misses Craik, two of the “three dear ladies” with whom Kipling spent his holidays from United Services College (USC). (See KJ 53 for April 1940, p.13: “Uncollected Kipling Writings III”, by E W Martindell).

Another version, also undated, was sent to the Chaplain of USC, Rev. George Willes, (See Pinney p. 2247). This contains more school slang and insider references, as is appropriate for a recipient actually at the College. (see Notes on the Text below). It also has an extra verse after Verse 4:

E’en now, that heavy College “crock”
Brings round the College tea:
E’en now, the hungry first form mock
J. Short’s economy.

The “crock” would have been a big tea urn, on a trolley. John Short was one of the College servants, referred to by his full name in the chorus for the final ballet in “Slaves of the Lamp 1” (Stalky & Co. p. 40):

John Short will ring the curtain down,
And ring the prompter’s bell.

The reference to his ‘economy’ suggests that John Short was parsimonious with second helpings for boys who, as Kipling relates, were always hungry. (See Something of Myself p. 23).

The poem was never collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford p. 193, and Pinney p. 1702.

The Poem

From his work as sub-editor of a paper in the heat of an Indian summer, Kipling fondly remembers his time at school in Devon the previous year.

Notes on the Text

[Verse 1]

Goosey pool a pool near Westward Ho! General Dunsterville (“Stalky”) writes in KJ 22 for June 1932, p. 49:

There was a famous pond on the Burrows called Goosey Pool, famous only to us and probably no more than a dirty pool to the casual observer.

Kipling mentions it in two poems written while at school: “Index Malorum” and “The First Day Back”.

[Verse 2]

the call bell a bell rung to call all the boys back to the College, ‘call-over’.

[Verse 3]

sparrow “spidger” in the Chaplain’s version (school slang).

catapult “tweaker” in the Chaplain’s version (school slang).

“Sally” saloon pistol, a pistol adapted for short-range practice. See “The Satisfaction of a Gentleman” in Stalky & Co.

[Verse 4]

Corey’s bath There was a big sea bath in which all the boys had to qualify for open bathing by swimming a quarter of a mile [400 metres] at least. (“An English School”, Land and Sea Tales).

Old comrades “The College” in the Chaplain’s version.

“rock” stone, throw stones at. See “Slaves of the Lamp” part I, in Stalky & Co., p. 58:

‘Hid in the coal locker—and tweaked Rabbits-Eggs—and Rabbits-Eggs rocked King.’

[Verse 5]

The Bar Bideford Bar, where the River Torridge meets the sea, visible from the College.

[Verse 6]

the punkah a large swinging cloth used as a fan in India, pulled backwards and forwards by a servant.(right)

[Verse 7]

printers’ calls for proof one of Kipling’s most important jobs was to check text for errors before passing it for final printing; the printers would get impatient if they were held up waiting. Since the compositors who set the type could not read English, errors were frequent.

[Verse 8]

a careless prose a poor rendering of a passage of English prose into Latin – much more difficult than a straight ‘translation’.

[Verse 9]

“thousand lines” a ‘hefty’ (strong) punishment, to copy out a thousand lines of Latin verse.

More crabbed than Euclid’s worst design Euclid (c. 300 BCE), Greek mathematician whose Elements was still used as a school textbook for geometry.

The Chaplain’s version reads: ‘More mystic than C——t’s list of fines’, referring to W.C.Crofts, the original of King in Stalky & Co. He was rather capricious in the level of punishment he enforced for shoddy work, and particularly hard on Kipling.

[Verse 10]

And hell like hot winds blow The Chaplain’s version reads: ‘And coolies puff and blow.’


©Philip Holberton 2019 All rights reserved