Wressley of the Foreign Office

Notes on the text

These notes, by John McGivering, are partly new, and partly based on the ORG. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of Plain Tales from the Hills, as published and frequently reprinted between 1899 and 1950.


[Heading] The first and last verses of the poem “Tarrant Moss”, later collected as a seven-verse poem, with some slight variations. Riever (Scots) means a raider, and moss a bog.

[Page 310, line 10] ruling forms see Something of Myself, p. 49 for a prisoner ruling forms in gaol who says: “If I made a mistake of an eighth of an inch in spacing these lines, I’d throw out all the accounts of the Upper Punjab.”

[Page 311, line 14] Aitchison’s Treaties and Sunnuds Sir Charles Umpherston Aitchison (1832–1896) Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab and other important posts. Published Collection of Treaties… relating to India (11 volumes, 1862–92)
[D.N.B.] edited by others and finishing in 13 volumes in 1909.

Sunnud from the Arabic sanad, a diploma, patent or deed of grant.

[Page 311, line 19] Shibboleth a password – Judges 12, 6. The victorious Gileadites required the fugitive Ephraimites, whom they had beaten in battle, to identify themselves by saying Shibboleth. They could not pronounce “sh –“ and were killed. It has also come to mean a smart saying or catchphrase. See also Note to Page 313, line 25 below.

[Page 311, line 25] inter-tribal complications see “The Head of the District” in Life’s Handicap.

[Page 311, line 28]‘foci’ the plural of the Latin word focus – in this context the points at which important lines converge.

[Page 312, line 22] “gentle” sooth a restive horse.

[Page 312, line 23] collar-galled a sore on the neck of a horse caused by a badly-fitting collar.

[Page 312, line 30] Thacker and Spink’s Directory Thacker and Spink were printers, publishers and booksellers in Bombay, and Kipling’s first publishers. They published the original edition of Plain Tales from the Hills. Thomas Pinney and David Richards have edited Kipling’s correspondence with them (1886–90) which was published in a limited edition in 2001.

[Page 313, line 2] Rajput chiefs From the Sanskrit Rajaputra – “King’s Son”. Before the Moguls invaded, the Rajputs had been a great and powerful people in India, claiming descent from the original Hindu caste of military rulers.

[Page 313, line 2] Ahir blots in their scutcheons Ahir is the caste of herdsmen, scutcheon is an form of escutcheon, which in this context is a shield bearing a coat of arms. A ‘blot on the escutcheon’ signifies a stain on the reputation of a family.

[Page 313, line 4] Herald’s College The College of Arms, or Heralds’ College in Queen Victoria Street, London, which under the authority of the Earl Marshal organises state ceremonial, also the grant and use of armorial bearings.

[Page 313, line 25] she lisped very prettily an inability to pronounce certain sounds – for instance ‘s’ and ‘z’ emerge as ‘th’. Sometimes a genuine defect as in small children, occasionally an irritating affectation by adults.

[Page 313, line 6] Bengal Civilian a member of the Bengal Civil Service

[Page 313, line 7] between office and office outside office-hours.

[Page 313, line 13] waler Strictly a horse imported from New South Wales, but also loosely applied to any Australian horse.

[Page 313, line 16] hand-gallop an easy gallop – the horse reined in very slightly.

[Page 313, line 19] presses in this context, cupboards or bookcases.

[Page 314, lines 1 – 5] Ruskin John Ruskin, (1819–1900) author, artist and social reformer whose lectures Sesame and Lilies which were published in 1865 gave Wressley his “peculiar notions as to the wooing of girls”. In the second lecture, “Of Queen’s Gardens”, Ruskin says that the true lover must be obedient – not merely enthusiastic, receiving from the beloved woman, however young, not only the encouragement, the praise, and the reward of all toil, but, so far as any choice is open, or any question difficult of decision, the direction of all toil.

Kipling had been familiar with Ruskin’s writings since his schooldays, since his friend at United Services College, Beresford (‘M’Turk’), had read Ruskin with enthusiasm.
M’Turk is collecting the monthly issues of Ruskin’s Fors Clavigera in “Slaves of the Lamp”, Part I in Stalky & Co. and quotes him in “The United Idolaters”.

The central importance of a man’s work was a deeply felt theme for Kipling. In “The Wrong Thing” in Rewards and Fairies when Dan cuts himself making a model boat, Hal tells him “Do your work with your heart’s blood, but no need to let it show.”

[Page 314, line 9] Native Rule in Central India It looks as if this if this (fictitious) work refers to Central India since the earliest times, which would, by the date of this story, include some of the six or seven hundred ‘Native States’ that made up about a million square miles of the whole country and a population of some 72 million. They were nominally self-governing, but the Government of India looked after their foreign relations and intervened to a greater or lesser extent in their internal affairs, appointing and replacing rulers as policy dictated.

[Page 314, line 21] seventeen hundred rupees a month Kipling started at the C.M.G on Rs. 150 per month. Wressley was a well-paid and senior official, ‘a good catch’ for Miss Venner, well worth waiting for in the view of mother and daughter.

[Page 315, line 7 ] calendared and counter-calendared Listed in chronological order and then listed again, which seems superfluous but is probably added for emphasis.

[Page 315, lines 11 –21] His heart and soul were at the end of his pen…happiness This passage might well stand as an epitaph for Kipling himself.

[Page 315, line 27] men being driven…. an ambitious wife may spur a man on to greater things. (But see the poems “The Female of the Species,” “The Betrothed”, and “The Winners” for the opposite point of view.)

[Page 315, line 32] back to the battalion an officer or man detached for special duty may be promoted and posted elsewhere when the duty is finished, or returned to his unit.

[Page 316, line 10] magnum opus Latin – masterpiece.

[Page 316, line 20] hack in this context, a literary drudge

[Page 316, line 20] three hundred rupees a month The pay of an inexperienced junior, less than a fifth of Wressley’s salary.

[Page 316, line 35] tarn A small lake.

[Page 317, line 8] penny-farthing A penny and a quarter of a penny from pre-decimal days when there were 240 pence in the £ Sterling instead of – as today – only one hundred. Here it is used to mean ‘trifling’. (In Victorian timea a ‘Penny-farthing’ was also an early form of bicycle, thus called because it had a large front wheel and a tiny back one.)

[J. McG.]