Virginibus Puerisque

(notes by Philip Holberton and John Radcliffe drawing on the researches of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)


This entertainment was published in the Pioneer on 13 August 1888, and republished in the Pioneer Mail on 19 August, with the signature ‘R.K.’ the subtitle ‘A Second-Rate Farce’, and a heading:

Dedicated with all possible respect and admiration
to the D–cc–n M——g
C–y C—mm—tee.

There is a subheading from Browning’s The Statue and the Bust:

And the sin I impute to each frustrate ghost
Is the unlit lamp and the ungirt loin,
Though the issue in sight was a Vice, I say
You of the Virtue, we issue join.
How goes it? De te fabula.
[The story is told about yourself: Horace, Satires, I.i.]

The piece is uncollected, but included in Kipling’s 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. 415) and Pinney (p. 1885).


The poem is a strong attack on the authorities for not taking vigorous action against incompetent senior officials when a scandal was uncovered. Rutherford (p. 415) writes:

On 16 April 1888 the Pioneer reported that the Nizam of Hyderabad, the greatest and wealthiest of the Native States (i.e. those not directly under British rule) had dismissed his Home Secretary and Minister of Public Works, Abdul Huq:

‘ … pending an explanation by him of his connection with the Hyderabad Mining Company, whereby the Government, parting for 99 years with their mineral interests gratis, purchase 12,500 shares for £150,000, and the company pays the concessionaires £850,000 for the concession, out of their capital of £1 million sterling. ‘

From this point on, the scandal was a matter of frequent comment in the Indian and British press, and a Select Committee was established by the House of Commons in London to inquire into the affairs of the Hyderabad (Deccan) Mining Company. It became clear that the concessionaires, Mr. Watson and a Mr Stewart (now deceased) had conspired with Abdul Huq to defraud both the Hyderabad Government and British shareholders. For example, the shares sold to the Nizam himself were part of a large block given to Abdul Huq as a gift in reward for his services; but the Nizam was given to understand that they were bought on the open market, and their sale was effected through a number of stockbrokers to give the impression of brisk trading. The allocation of 850,000 pounds worth of shares to the concessionaires was clearly outrageous, and there were other irregularities in the conduct of the company’s affairs.

The British Agent at Hyderabad, the Indian Government, and the Secretary of State for India had all been involved at one stage or another in the negotiations for the concession, and there was widespread criticism of their failure to exercise more effective control. As the time approached for the committee to report, there were persistent rumours that the Government was anxious to suppress any adverse comments on senior British officials.

The Pioneer printed a full summary of the report on 11 August 1888,
but describes it as ‘about as disappointing a thing as could well be imagined’, since it confined itself to obvious facts such as the concessionaires having pocketed vast sums the Nizam’s Government never intended them to have, and obvious conclusions such as the need for Residents in Native States to look more carefully to the interests of those they were supposed to protect and advise. It did nothing to clear away suspicions of carelessness and incompetence on the part of senior officials, or to confirm such suspicions and deliver a rebuke.

The scenario

The title is taken from the Latin of Horace, Odes III, i: I sing to maidens and boys. The implication is that the committee’s report is not designed for grown-ups, avoiding anything that might cause offence. Robert Louis Stevenson, a writer whom Kipling admired, had used the same phrase for the title of a volume of essays in 1881.

In Kipling’s burlesque the investors are furious, they think the criminals deserve to die painfully, but voices are raised urging calm and moderation. They ask for more clarity on what has happened, but the answer comes that clarity can cause trouble. The committee give a laughable performance, like a minstrel show, but their message is clear, don’t make a fuss and keep your fingers clean. Meanwhile the miscreants have got away with highway robbery.

The burden of Browning’s poem The Statue and the Bust is that if you want something to happen, you need to act, rather than dither.

This is one of several verses that Kipling wrote in India in the form of a libretto for a light opera. The best-known is “The Masque of Plenty”, the only one he thought worthy to be collected in Departmental Ditties. Most, like this one, were to do with local issues, not readily comprehensible to wider or later readers.

Notes on the Text

Who shall restore An echo of Joel II.25 in the Old Testament. ‘I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten.’

Huqster a play on Huckster – a mercenary person ready to make profit out of anything – and Abdul Huq, the prime conspirator.

W–ts–n Watson, Abdul Huq’s partner in crime.

We are sold cheated, tricked, deceived.

paid share as opposed to those unpaid for by Abdul Huq and the concessionaires.

tusker trained a traditional punishment in Native States in an earlier era was for the malefactor to be trampled to death by an elephant.

budmash evil-doer.

hathi musth a mad elephant.

Henry Sir Henry James (1828-1911), Chairman of the Select Committee.

Apollo – the Bunder ‘The Apollo Bunder’ was a famous landing place at Bombay, but the reference here is obscure. A bund is a quay or embankment.

More light last words of the German poet Goethe (1749-1832).

to hymn tune the words would fit the tune of the majestic Anglican hymn “The Church’s One Foundation”.

tambo tambourine.

Sheol the Hebrew hell.

O koorong pronunciation of French au courant, meaning ‘thoroughly conversant’.

dicky tricky, risky (slang).

S–R R–CH––D T–MPLE Sir Richard Temple (1826-1902) member of Select Committee.

The next four stanzas are written in the language of a ‘nigger minstrel’ song, in which white singers blacked their faces and spoke in exaggerated accents, a form of entertainment which has deservedly died the death, but was popular in Victorian England.

H–Y L—CH–RE Henry du Pré Labouchère (1832-1912), member of the Select Committee, founder of the weekly journal Truth which exposed many frauds.

Trufle James Truthful James. See the note on last verse below.

Woking the largest cemetery in England.

Claude Duval (1643-1670) a famous 17th Century French nobleman. who plied his trade as a highwayman in Restoration England until he was caught and hanged.

Nantes French brandy.

I live on Table Mountain a parody of the first verse of “The Society upon the Stanislaus” by Bret Harte (1839-1902), which would have been familiar to 19th century readers:

I reside at Table Mountain, and my name is Truthful James;
I am not up to small deceit, or any sinful games;
And I’ll tell in simple language what I know about the row.
That broke up our society upon the Stanislow.


©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved