This poem was published in the Pioneer on 3 February 1888, with the signature ‘R.K.’ and the heading:
‘Two years ago Sir A. Colvin, in introducing the Income Tax Bill,
described that year as the last of the fat kine. He said that the lean
were come in.’— Vide Mr. Westland’s Financial statement,
‘Peace, peace, such a small lamp illumes on this highway
So dimly, so few steps in front of our feet.’
The Song of the Bower.
It was reprinted in the Civil and Military Gazette on 7 February, and the Pioneer Mail on 8 February.
It is included in Kipling’s Scrapbook 4 of his own press cuttings in the Kipling Papers in the University of Sussex Special Collections. It was not otherwise collected by Kipling, but is also to be found in Rutherford (p. 392) and Pinney (p. 1874).
Sir Austin Colvin (C—lv—n), formerly the Financial Member of the Viceroy’s Council, was now Lieutenant–Governor of the North-West Provinces with his headquarters in Allahabad. For his introduction of Income Tax see “The Rupaiyat of Omar Kal’vin” and “The Quid Pro Quo”.
The ‘Fat and lean kine’ figure in the Old Testament in Genesis 41, verses 1-4 and 29-30:
Pharaoh dreamed. And behold, there came up out of the river seven well-favoured kine and fat–fleshed. And behold, seven other kine came up after them out of the river,
ill–favoured and lean–fleshed. And the ill–favoured and lean–fleshed kine did eat up the seven well favoured and fat kine.
Joseph, then an Israelite prisoner, interpreted the fat kine to mean seven years of plenty and the lean–fleshed kine seven years of famine.
James Westland (W—stl—nd) was Comptroller and Auditor General for the Government of India, and Head Commissioner of Paper Currency.
“The Song of the Bower” is a poem by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) the Pre-Raphaelite poet and painter, a close friend of Kipling’s ‘Uncle Ned’, Edward Burne-Jones.
This is another attack on the Indian Government’s management of its finances, at a time when Anglo Indians were feeling taxes as a particularly heavy burden, since their incomes were being squeezed by the fall in the value of the rupee. As Andrew Rutherford explains, the Pioneer for 28 January 1888 reported Mr. Westland’s speech on the financial situation, and the full text was printed in the edition for 30 January. He proposed a tax on all imported petroleum, in addition to a 25% increase in the Salt Tax.
The poem criticises Westland’s financial management, suggesting that he is being improvident at the expense of the taxpayers, supported at a distance by Colvin. As Head Commissioner of Paper Currency (the bank-note man) he is responsible for issuing the Government’s bank notes which promised to pay the bearer their face value, up to a total of eighty crores of rupees—a crore being ten million. He then proves that Government couldn’t pay and raises taxes to cover the deficit. The effect is that his Bearer will pay. In India a bearer was a personal servant, here standing for the general population.
Notes on the Text
Struck Ile ‘Struck oil’ — What an American might say on drilling a successful well.
Valhallahabad a play on Allahabad (where Sir Austin Colvin was based) and Valhalla, the hall in Norse myth where dead heroes feasted.
L.G. Lieutenant-Governor, Colvin’s current very senior rank, away from the central government and in charge of a province.
leaned from the bar of Heaven This is a quotation from another poem by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “The Blessed Damozel” who:
From the gold bar of Heaven.
P——r the Pioneer, the sister paper in Allahabad of the Civil and Military Gazette. Kipling transferred there from Lahore in November 1887, as Assistant Editor.
seven columns of trash the text of Westland’s speech ran to seven and three-quarter columns in the Pioneer for 30 January.
golah storehouse for salt or grain.
Krishna The god of love and compassion, one of the most popular and widely revered among Indian deities, and often represented playing a flute.
hurricane lamp a small lamp burning kerosene.
Knaust a reference to the Lamp Warehouse of Theodore Knaust in Bombay.
nous sense, intelligence (Greek).
thora mutti-ki-tel a little kerosene (Urdu).
catspaw a faint breath of wind.
bunnia corn merchant or shopkeeper (Urdu).
pice copper coins of very small value.
©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved