‘My Son’s Wife’

Notes on the text

These notes, edited by John Radcliffe, are partly new, and partly based on the ORG. We are grateful to Alastair Wilson for various comments and suggestions. The page and, line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of A Diversity of Creatures, as published and frequently reprinted between 1917 and 1950.

[Title] My Son’s Wife This elusive title comes from a poem by Jean Ingelow (1820-1897) called The High Tide on the Coast of Lincolnshire (1571) , which tells of a much loved woman drowned in a flood by the dangerous sea, which had broken the sea wall. The whole quotation, used repeatedly, runs:

And sweeter woman ne’er drew breath
Than my sonne’s wife Elizabeth.

Its meaning as the title to this story (and a leimotif through it), is not easy to discern. Lines from the poem are sung by Miss Sperrit at page 340 line 6, and 373 line 24, and quoted by Midmore at 371 line 14. Perhaps it echoes the meaning of the flood in the tale, unpredictable, dangerous to all, and only countered by resolute action, lest all be lost. Kipling himself had experienced such floods at Bateman’s, and he also writes of them as powerful forces of nature in, for instance, “Friendly Brook” in this collection, and “In Floodtime” in Soldiers Three (1888).

[Page 333 line 1] the disease of the century by this Kipling was referring to the ‘progressive’ tendency to question existing institutions and traditions, attack poverty and other social problems by goverment intervention, and spread the national wealth more widely, discussed in many lecture halls, expressed by such Socialist writers as Bernard Shaw, and to a degree influencing ths thinking of the Liberal governments which were in power from 1906 onwards. Kipling strongly disapproved of Liberal policies in practically every field, Ireland, South Africa, heavier taxation for the wealthy, reform of the Navy, complacency over threats to Britain’s imperial authority, and to Britain itself. He was not impressed by Parliament or politicians, and still less by urban intellectuals and what he saw as their subversive ideas. All this lay behind the contempt for the ‘Immoderate Left’ which he expresses in the first page and a half of this story. See the comments by Angus Wilson quoted in the headnote.

[Page 334 line 32 et sequ.] Ther Land The land which formed Midmore’s estate was largely let to Mr Sidney, the rascally tenant farmer.

[Page 335 line 18] vie intime personal life.

[Page 335 line 33] There’s no park A ‘park’ was an area of land surrounding a country house which would be kept by the owner to provide a view, with – for instance – large trees, ornamental lakes, etc. Midmore’s estate was not sufficiently large or prosperous to support this.

[Page 335 line 27] “unholy Sperrit” Kipling’s joke. An echo of the title of Swinburne’s (1837-1909) Atalanta in Calydon -“The Holy Spirit of Man”.

[Page 336 line 12] ‘Liris——out of Horace, you know’ The ‘peaceful river silently undermining its banks’. From Kipling’s favourite classical author. See ORG pp. 1633 and 5476.

[Page 337 line 20] rubricates its I’s and illuminates its T’s nearly the same meaning as ‘dots its I’s and crosses its T’s’ – but with great care and considerable fuss.

[Page 338 line 11] when the cattle wake for a little just before the dawn.

[Page 338 line 15] Eliphaz the Temanite … these are Job’s comforters, see Job 2,11.

[Page 338 line 30] the winter cantata This must have been a setting of Jean Ingelow’s poem, see the note above on the title of the story.

[Page 339 line 11] leave their pipes of parsley ‘ollow’ Kipling misquotes Miss Ingelow’s lines: ‘quit the stalks of parsley hollow, hollow, hollow.’

[Page 339 line 17] Ne sit ancillae is part of the first line of the fourth Ode in the Second Book of Odes of Horace; it continues: ‘tibi amor puderi’.

It can be translated from the Latin as: ‘do not be ashamed to have the love of the captive maiden’.

[Page 340 line 7] The first three of these lines are consecutive ones from “The High Tide”, the fourth comes three lines further on.

[Page 340 line 19] baths many country houses and some town ones too, were without fixed baths until 1919.

‘ip i.e. hip-bath this was one in which the water just covered the hips as one sat in it.

foot This was a bath only a little larger than a large pair of feet. One sat on a small chair and washed ones feet in the water.

[Page 340 line 19] Sitz a bath in which one sits but somewhat different from a `hip’ bath. All these baths were taken in the bedroom; water having to be carried in cans from a furnace or boiler in the kitchen or back kitchen.

[Page 340 line 26] Chippendale the famous English furniture maker who flourished about 1760.

[Page 340 line 28] William and Mary chairs of the period 1688-1702 were usually made in walnut ornamented with lathe work. Much of the work was done by French Huguenot (Protestant) refugees, who influenced the designs.

[Page 341 line 7] Bartolozzi (Francesco) 1728-1815. a famous Italian engraver who settled in England. He was an original painter member of the Royal Academy in London.

[Page 341 line 9] bath chair a chair with wheels for transporting the sick or infirm.

[Page 341 line 10] malachite-headed malachite is a hard green mineral used in ornamental work.

[Page 341 line 11] malacca-cane a walking stick of a rich brown colour made from the stem of a palm which grows in the Malacca District of Malaysia. Much prized when walking sticks were carried as ornaments.

[Page 341 line 13] reticule the 19th century predecessor of the ladies handbag. The name implies that it was made of woven or network material.

[Page 341 line 21] in an Empire chair an ornate decorated chair in the French style.

[Page 341 line 33] the County Council the local authority responsible for such matters as highways and public health.

[Page 342 line 1] swine fever an infectious and highly dangerous disease of pigs.

[Page 342 line 30] ’tisn’t the whisky you drink she is giving him a cheap brand of whisky.

[Page 343 line 3] Bombay Cabinet Probably a cupboard made of Bombay box work. This form of decoration of boxes, desks, etc. with veneers of geometrical mosaic, are thought to have been introduced from Shiraz in Iran to Surat in Gujarat about 1785, and thirty years later from Surat to Bombay (now Mumbai). The veneers are formed by cementing together fine triangular prisms of ebony, ivory green and veined ivory, stag’s horn and tin.

[Page 343 line 15-16] they keep in other words they would simply live with a woman without the commitment of marriage. Such a companion would be referred to contemptuously by more respectable people as a ‘kept woman’.

[Page 343 line 27] breechloaders until the 1880’s all shot guns were loaded at the muzzle and for quite a long time it was normal to refer to the newer sporting guns as breechloaders.

[Page 344 line 9] while yet far off this is reminiscent of passages in the Bible.

[Page 344 line 16] aldered The alder is a small tree related to the birch, very common in wet ground spots in some parts of England.

[Page 344 line 27] it don’t make any odds to you wouldn’t matter to you.

[Page 345 line 6 and 12] `idiot’ Jimmy is a congenital mental defective, the result of the inbreeding not uncommon at that time in English villages. He had other congenital defects including a cleft palate. A more common defect would be a squint, with which the ‘village idiot’ is usually portrayed. He also seems to be an epileptic, who has ‘seizures’ (line 14).

[Page 345 line 6] a manifest idiot Jimmy had to dance around Midmore as he was unable to attract his attention by coherent speech.

[Page 345 line 31] sciatica a painful and incapacitating inflammation of the sciatic nerve.

[Page 346 line 4] preservin’ looking after the pheasants so that they are plentiful in the shooting season. Fot the hunt to ride across the land would disturb them. But Midmore was not preserving.

[Page 346 line 10] ‘ave to draw it dig it out from the gravel pit and cart it to the premises.

[Page 346 line 25] The author referred to is Robert Smith Surtees (1803-1864), who wrote novels about fox-hunting in the second quarter of the 19th century. His best known books are Handley Cross and Jorrocks’ Jaunts and Jollities, from which the characters mentioned are taken. He was ‘Stalky’s’ favourite author when Stalky & Co. were at United Services College, and frequently quoted.

[Page 347 line 19] lonelier Columbus The celebrated Genoese ship’s captain who sailed out into the unknown and discovered America.

[Page 349 line 25] “the set grey life and apathetic end’ This is from line 17 of “Love and Duty” by Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892).

[Page 351 line 31] coromandel-wood liqueur case this wood does not come from the Coromandel coast of Madras, India, but from Coromandel in the North Island of New Zealand, the centre of the Kauri timber district: this pine makes good furniture and was frequently used for wine and spirit stands and biscuit barrels.

[Page 352 line 8] Alsatia Alsatia, in London, was the slang name given to an area lying north of the River Thames covered by the Whitefriars monastery, to the south of the west end of Fleet Street, and adjacent to the Temple. Between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries it had the privilege of a sanctuary for criminals. It was named after the ancient name for Alsace in Eastern France, which was at one time outside legal jurisdiction, and, thus a place without law. The Master is referring to the hounds being prevented from chasing their quarry onto Sidney’s land

[Page 353 line 11] his own familiar friend see Job 19,14, also Psalm 41.

[Page 353 line 14] found so-lace in this context ‘found love’.

[Page 353 lines 24-5] a five pound note which he had got back on the price this was the ‘luck’s penny’, a pleasant old tradition by which the seller gives back a little of the price to the buyer, to signify that he is happy with the bargain.

[Page 353 lines 27 to 30] `the young man, etc.’ Kipling again misquotes. The lines should read: ‘no young man wot would not rather have a himputation on his morality than on his ‘ossmanship.’ (Handley Cross chapter XVI.)

[Page 354 line 17] the apes whose diet they had adopted they were vegetarians.

[Page 355 line 15] cubbing the hunting of young foxes in the Autumn at the beginning of the season.

[Page 355 line 16] you haven’t a bad seat on a horse.

[Page 356 line 6] a snuff-coloured habit ladies rarely rode astride in those days. The full length gown they wore for riding side-saddle was known as a habit. Kipling is referring to the lady, not the garment.

[Page 356 line 12] Injecto ter pulvere (Latin) ‘I cast in dust three times.’

[Page 357 line 33] the Field Going strong today in 2008, The Field is the world’s oldest countryside magazine.

[Page 358 line 16] Galahad The guiltless Knight of the Round Table, in the Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory (1405-1471).

[Page 359 line 1] résumé summary.

[Page 360 lines 2-4] “His lordship then did as desired and disclosed a tableau . . .” from Surtees. A tableau is French for a scene.

[Page 360 lines 6 and 8] skirters … skirted Martha Glisson writes: ‘This is foxhunting terminology. A ‘skirter’ is a hound that doesn’t follow the scent closely but wanders around, cutting corners and possibly leading other hounds astray and losing the scent altogether. A ‘babbler’ is a hound that gives tongue on rabbits, squirrels, or anything other than the fox, thus confusing other hounds and the huntsman. Midmore I think is criticizing his former way of life in the terms of his new one, acknowledging his frivolity and misconduct but thanking heaven that he didn’t talk too freely.’

[Page 360 line 19] Sortes Surteesianae the ‘Surteesian lots’. The Romans used to let Virgil’s works fall open and take the text on which their finger first fell, as a guide for action, in the sortes virgilianae; Midmore is doing the same with Surtees.

[Page 365 line 6] `puddled’ to render watertight by the proper application of suitable clay, like a dew-pond is made.

[Page 365 line 23] The four lines on Page 365 are an old English proverb.

[Page 365 line 29] a trap a small two-wheeled conveyance, pulled by a horse or pony.

[Page 371 line 15 and Page 373 line 16] More quotations from “The High Tide” also from that poem comes: ‘The old mayor climbed the belfry tower’, and the lines starting ‘The flood strewed wrecks …’

[Page 374 lines 3 & 4] “The Brides of Enderby” according to “The High Tide” this was a tune rung by the bells as an alarm signal.

[Page 374 line 14] “and sweeter woman . . .” see Page 340 line 8.

[Page 374 line 25] `careened’ turned over. The word comes from the Latin carina, a keel, and refers to the process by which a wooden ship was hauled over on her side, with bottom and keel exposed, so that the hull could be scraped and repaired if necessary.


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