From Tideway to Tideway VIII

On One Side Only


(notes by Alastair Wilson, drawing on the work of the ORG Editors)



This, the eighth and last of the “Tideway” articles, was published in:

  • The Times (London), on 29th November 1892
  • The Civil and Military Gazette (Lahore), 17th, 19th and 20th December 1892
  • The New York Sunday Sun on 4th December 1892.
  • The Examiner (San Francisco) on 4th December 1892.


Having returned to Vermont, where they arrived from Quebec on 26 July 1892, they settled down in Bliss Cottage on the Balestier farm while their own house ‘Naulakha’ was being built.

One may wonder why Kipling wrote this reflective and rather rambling piece for a series of travel articles. We would tentatively suggest that he was contracted to write a fixed number of pieces for the three newspapers, and so, to fulfil the contract and earn the money he needed to pay for ‘Naulakha’, he offered them this.

When the letters contained in From Tideway to Tideway were collected in 1920, a ninth ‘letter’ was included, entitled “Leaves from a Winter Notebook”, written in 1894, when the Kiplings were settled in Vermont. It may have been included as a deliberate contrast to the summer scenes described in this letter, or to complete the year-round picture of Brattleboro.

The Letter

This letter is datelined “New Oxford, U.S.A., June-July 1892.” New Oxford is a small town in the state of Pennsylvania, and we can offer no explanation for the dateline. The Kiplings were in Japan and at sea for the greater part of June, travelling across Canada and down to Vermont from Montreal in July. It may well have simply been a red herring, since Kipling might not have wanted to create any possibility of offending his about-to-be new neighbours in Vermont.

He did the same sort of thing in Letter XXXVI of From Sea to Sea, where he referred to Mrs. Edmonia Hill’s home town of Beaver, Pennsylvania, as ‘Musquash’.
However, in that case there is a connection between the two names: here, unless perhaps there was some obscure family joke, we know of no connection. It will be seen that on the last page of this letter he gives the game away by identifying the neighbouring townships.

The first three pages of the letter are a commentary on the heat of a New England summer: and how the whole of the countryside seems to meander along at a pace suited to the heat. Into this calm life comes the city holiday maker – who still cannot rest: and from this Kipling digresses to what an earlier generation would have known as “the servant problem”, and the issue of unrestricted immigration.

The immigrant, in Kipling’s understanding, sees the settled American always in a hustle, which breeds impatience, which breeds lawlessness and with this, breakdown brought on by over-work and fear of being left behind. Over forty years later, in Something of Myself, Kipling recalled the sheer disorderliness of America, though he was more charitable about the immigrants:

Administratively, there was unlimited and meticulous legality, with a multiplication of semi-judicial offices and titles; but of law-abidingness, or of any conception of what that implied, not a trace. Very little in business, transportation, or distribution, that I had to deal with, was sure, punctual, accurate, or organised … immigrants were coming into the States at about a million head a year. They supplied the cheap—almost slave—labour, lacking which all wheels would have stopped, and they were handled with a callousness that horrified me…

But from his little Vermont cottage in the 1890s, he saw with approval that in the country, time is of little consequence: there will usually be time to “get around to it” someday. The Letter ends with a tribute to the local farming people as authentic Americans:

They do not appear in the city papers, they are not much heard in the streets, and they tell very little in the outsider’s estimate of America.
And they are the American.

Notes on the Text

[Page 90, line 7] butcher-bills periodical returns of deaths: it was used especially of casualty-lists in war.

[Page 90, line 12] the logs and loggers were drought-bound When the timber had been cut, it was floated down the river to its destination. In a drought, the river was too low for this.

[Page 90, line 13] the Connecticut the Connecticut river, running southwards from Canada and forming the boundary between Vermont and New Hampshire, passing thence through Massachusetts and Connecticut to flow into Long Island Sound.

[Page 90, lines 15/16] sparks from the locomotives the steam locomotive, especially a wood-burner, or when working hard, was apt to throw substantial sparks and cinders from its chimney.

In England, as I recall, if you were in the train, you rarely saw them, but from the line-side at night, you might see a miniature volcano, especially when the train was, say, climbing to Shap summit in Cumbria on the way to Scotland. This Editor recalls seeing a field of just-about-ripe wheat in East Sussex burning unstoppably in the hot dry summer of 1976 after the passage of a steam train on the preserved Bluebell Railway.

[Page 90, line 17] station or depot.

[Page 90, line 18] 30 below zero in degrees Fahrenheit, 62° of frost, or – 34.2°C. Kipling had experienced that cold in Vermont four months earlier.

[Page 90, line 19] 98 degrees in the shade or nearly 37°C.

[Page 91, line 4] alpaca coats cloth woven from the wool of the South American alpaca makes a very lightweight suit, suitable for wear in hot weather.

[Page 91, line 4] splint chairs chairs made of interwoven split cane.


[Page 91, lines 5/6] an ex-president of the United States There were two living ex-Presidents of the USA in 1892: Rutherford B. Hayes, and Grover Cleveland. It seems that it was the former: the Vermont Phoenix (the local paper) reports his presence in the town, visiting relatives, on 22 July 1892.

[Page 91, line 14] Politics evaporate . . . last of the hay In a rural constituency, husbandry takes precedence over politics.

[Page 91, line 22] fiddling of the locusts the sound made by the cicadas.

[Page 91, lines 25/26] the belted hills the hills with belts of woodland on their flanks.

[Page 91, line 29] balsams there are two balsams – a tree, Abies balsamea, and a plant, Impatiens glandulifera. Kipling probably meant the former, which is common in the forests of north-eastern America and eastern Canada.

[Page 91, line 32] gipsy-flowers the roadside flowers.

[Page 92, line 1] white dust in the days before tar macadam, roads were incredibly dusty in a dry summer.

[Page 92, line 5] a team is lathering a team of working horses is sweating as it hauls a load between two farms – possibly a mower.

[Page 92, lines 7/8] chicken-hawk a common name for any one of three species of American birds of prey – Cooper’s Hawk, the Sharp-shinned Hawk, and the Red-tailed Hawk. They do not, literally, prey on chickens as a rule.

[Page 92, line 12] among the butternuts the White Walnut of North America; its nut contains the oil which gives it its name.

[Page 92, line 21] when traffic is brisk . . . the Kiplings were now living in Bliss Cottage, close to the road – but in rural Vermont, the road was not busy, and the teamster could afford to ‘pass the time of day’ with anyone who spoke to him.

[Page 92, line 31] kul hojaiga the first word of this Indian phrase means ‘Tomorrow’: the second, “It will come” or “It will be done”.

[Page 93, line 2] the cities of the plain see Genesis 13,12: ‘Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent towards Sodom.’


[Page 93, line 4] she kodaks to ‘kodak’ was to take a photograph with a Kodak camera. George Eastman invented roll-film in 1885; and introduced the trademark ‘Kodak’ in 1888.

The Oxford English Dictionary records the first use of Kodak as a noun (referring to a camera) in 1888 and as a verb, as Kipling is using it here, in 1891 – so Kipling was being very up-to-the-mark.

[Page 93, line 25] wantonness a word of several meanings, and an unusual one to use about Londoners leaving the city. Kipling’s meaning here is in the sense of ‘caprice’ or ‘whim’.

Remember that, at this time, holidays (for which the workman was not paid) were an innovation for the working classes in the UK (holidays with pay were introduced by legislation in 1938). London rarely enjoyed or suffered the temperatures experienced in New York, although its atmosphere, laden with coal smoke, could be unpleasant.


[Page 93, line 33] Saguenay a river in the Province of Quebec in Canada, which runs east-south-east from Lake St. John into the St. Lawrence estuary.

[Page 94, line 2] Sitka in far western Alaska: this represented the other limit of the summer holiday belt for city-dwellers in Canada and the USA. Sitka gives its name to the Sitka Spruce, a conifer.

[Page 94, lines 29/30] This propensity for men to think that their business cannot function without them applied in London as well as in the USA. This Editor’s father wrote, referring to his father, who was a stock-jobber, a stock-broker for other stock-brokers:

Stock-broking (the buying and selling of shares on behalf of clients) was a very hazardous occupation, and before 1914 I hardly ever remember my father being able to complete the full time of our annual holiday. Wars, or rumours of war, had the effect of giving the Stock-Exchange the jitters.

[Page 94, line 28] grip a small carrying bag, originally of canvas. The word is an abbreviation of ‘gripsack’, and again the word was fairly new when Kipling used it: the Oxford English Dictionary first cites it in 1879.

[Page 95, line 14] gash dismal to look at (Scots).

[Page 95, line 24] Help servants In America the word ‘servant’ was not used: the phrase “hired help” replaced it. English middle-class women had “the servant problem” – the difficulty of finding and keeping reliable servants. In America, the same thing applied, only it was “the help” that was the problem.

[Page 96, line 14] helot from an old word meaning ‘serf ‘, but now used figuratively only. The word derives from the slave class in ancient Sparta.

[Page 96] The whole of this page is a diatribe against household servants in general, and is a reflection of the degree to which, in the days before modern labour-saving machines, middle-class homes in both America and Britain relied on low-paid labour (about 95% female) to keep their houses running, while paterfamilias went out to earn the family bread.

It is interesting, in that Kipling had never had to keep house for himself up until now. In India he had either lived at home, or had been, in effect, a boarder. In London he had been a boarder, his landlady providing him with the household services of purchasing and cooking his food, washing his clothes and cleaning his rooms. Now he was about to find out, the hard way, the problems of keeping up a middle-class life-style, with – one assumes – much advice about the shortcomings of ‘hired help’ from the American ladies he met.

As an aside, readers may be interested to read this Editor’s father’s account of my grandfather’s household in suburban Buckinghamshire (20 miles north-west of London) in the years 1910-1914. My grandfather was a stockjobber on the London stock-exchange, in good times he earned a good living, but he did not own his own house, nor did he ever own a car. And in bad times, money was short.

I have nothing but splendid memories of my childhood. We lived modestly, but compared to nowadays, people would say we lived in some style. The family ménage consisted of my mother, father and four children: a cook-general who did all, or most. of the cooking, at any rate – for the family; a house-parlourmaid; a funny little ‘tweeny’, or scrub woman, whose major duty seemed to be to clean the oil lamps which were put out in the scullery every day, and all the glass funnels had to be cleaned, and they had to be replenished with oil; and there was a man in a green baize apron who mowed the grass and put the pony in the trap. And that was a very normal middle-class household of those days.

My father continued, referring to the house-parlourmaid:

My mother paid her £12 a year when she first engaged her at the age of 17 in 1912, and at the end of the war she was received £20 per annum. In addition, she received two dress lengths, and my mother provided her with cap and aprons. Servants in those days had half-a-day a week off, and one whole day a month. Despite what appear to be appallingly low wages and long hours, there was no shortage of girls, or, for that matter, men, to enter domestic service. Most employers were fair and treated their servants well; and a place in a secure middle-class family meant security from want, warmth and an abundance of good food. And those things meant more than high wages. They worked long hours by present day standards, but then everybody worked hard.

[As a further Editorial aside, illustrating the surprising degree of social mobility in the late-Victorian era, my great-great-grand-father was a crofter (an independent but poor peasant farmer) in north-east Scotland: his son started as a farm labourer, but ended as Carter (Haulier, we would say).His son, my grandfather, born in a ‘butt and ben’ (a two-room cottage) went to London and became a stock-jobber, thoroughly middle-class, employing four servants. There were many such.]

[Page 96, line 17] sixteen-pound maid inexperienced housemaids were then paid from four shillings a week (£10 8s 0d) to £16 a year in England, plus food and uniforms. (ORG).


[Page 96, line 24] wrestled with the Swede Kipling was writing from experience, it would seem: the Carrington extracts from Carrie’s diaries record:

21 August: “A maid at $18 a month”
5 September: “The Swedish maid defaults”

Carrie Kipling, a forceful woman, had ‘problems with servants’ from time to time throughout her married life.

[Page 96, line 25] the unspeakable celt the Irish Catholic (see line 6 above). Many Irish families emigrated to the United States during the 19th Century to seek a better life and escape the exactions of English landlords. They had to take whatever work they could get, and many, from country districts, had few skills to offer.

Today, such remarks, presumably echoing what various American ladies had said to the Kiplings, would not be acceptable. He had formed the view that the Irish made unreliable staff.

Again, we would suggest to our readers Somerville and Ross’s ‘Irish R.M.’ tales for a more charitable view of the Irish servants of those days on their own turf.

[Page 97, line 13] Some day it is going to be the finest machine Kipling would probably be surprised to see how the machine has developed, in ways which he never envisaged

[Page 97, line 27] Lal-Beg representing the lowest class of Indian house servant.

[Page 98, line 1] parochial pride which squeals . . . Kipling suffered quite a lot of this in America, ever since his first comment on the defences of San Francisco and the Golden Gate in Letter XXIII of From Sea to Sea.

[Page 98, line 10] Baal of the Dollars in Biblical times Baal was the false god, in the view of the People of Israel.

[Page 98, line 12] shells, buttons, and counters at various times and in various countries, such tokens have been used as the medium of exchange, later to be replaced by coins.

[Page 98, line 30] rebellion (and that fruit has been tasted once already) a reference to the American Civil War (1861-65).

[Page 98, line 32] comes profit to those who wait possibly a reference to the ‘carpet-baggers’ who profited from the re-construction of the South after the Civil War.

[Page 99, lines 5/6] many times within a month . . . strangle other people with ropes we are not sure what inspired this disquisition upon mob-rule and lynching – which is how we read the majority of this paragraph, from the lower part of page 98 to half way down page 99.

After the American Civil War (1861-66), which had ended slavery in the United States, the Ku Klux Klan was founded in the South by ex-soldiers of the Confederate Army, and sought to restore white supremacy by threats and violence, including murder.

Wikipedia, on Lynching in the United States, cites the year 1892 as being a peak year in which 161 African-Americans were lynched in the Southern states. Nor were lynchings confined to the South, nor to African-Americans.

Clearly the news of these mob murders greatly shocked Kipling, coming from a country where mobs might occasionally cause deaths, but usually from plain, common-or-garden rioting, and then infrequently.

[Page 100, lines 4/5] in clothes that have no back to them it was the custom for paupers to be buried in clothes which had no backs – cheaper, but they looked respectable before the coffin lid was screwed down.

Indeed this does not seem to have been confined to paupers. See Letter XXXIV of From Sea to Sea, under ‘Ellewomen’, when he describes his horror at finding such garments in an Undertaker’s establishment in Omaha.

[Page 100, lines 5/6] mounds of smilax smilax Similax is a climbing plant, of many types: it is, or was, commonly used by undertakers to provide decorative greenery round a coffin.

[Page 100, lines 6/7] young men … talk to you about their nerves See George Chapin, the young American businessman in “An Habitation Enforced” (Actions and Reactions, p. 3, line 17): who has suffered just such a breakdown as Kipling has observed here. Kipling himself had suffered a breakdown through overwork in the Autumn of 1890.

[Page 100, line 32, and Page 101, lines 1/2] Monadnock …Putney … Marlboro’ … Guildford … New Fane Place-names which identify the town of which Kipling was writing as Brattleboro, Vermont.

Monadnock (right), the mountain in neighbouring New Hampshire, was Kipling’s talisman for home. The other names were all townships surrounding Brattleboro’ and the site of his house-to-be, ‘Naulakha’.

[Page 101, line 18] corncrib a receptacle for cattle fodder – not unlike a child’s crib, or cot, and intended to contain maize, or corn, for fodder.




©Alastair Wilson 2011 All rights reserved