This poem was specially written as a contribution to Q. Horati Flacci Carminum Liber Quintum, published in London in November 1920 and in New York the following year. It is listed in ORG as no. 1108.
It is collected in:
The poem reflects ironically on the career of Lollius, a self-made man. From a family of no great consequence, he has enriched himself by trade and bought his way into the aristocracy. He lives in luxury, deferred to, served by slaves, cared for by distinguished doctors, his sons and daughters well-received in society. He is careful with his money, but pays his dues.
In the past, some say, virtue, rather than money, was the way to advancement. This is a laughable belief, in Ancient Rome or modern times, insists the poet.
Whatever the classical references, Jan Montefiore places the poem firmly in the context of post-war Britain, seeing it as a sharply barbed attack by Kipling on the political corruption of his day:
It's a not-so-coded satire on parvenu wealthy men buying their knighthoods, and on the general corruption of public life—hence the mocking laughter in the last stanza at the suggestion that titles used to be awarded for real achievements.This poem is singled out for praise by Donald Davie, in Church, Chapel and the Unitarian Conspiracy: Essays in Dissent, Carcanet Press 1995, pp. 162-165. Davie (1922-1995), himself a poet, was a fine and subtle critic:
'Lollius', who has ... bought his title with money acquired as a war profiteer, is declared in the poem to be more of a fair dealer than others in the State—the orating politicians who sold it to him ... or it may be those with more ancient titles who have preserved their aristocratic status by 'a conscience or a spouse/ Sold and resold'.Davie goes on to note:
the extraordinarily deft allusion, at the turn from the seventh into the eighth stanza, to Alexander Pope's Horatian 'Ode on Solitude':Jan Montefiore comments:Happy the man, whose wish and careSubstituting 'With his own cheques' for 'In his own ground' brilliantly encapsulates 200 years of history which saw England change from being a predominantly landed and agrarian culture into one that is predominantly financial and commercial ...To get so much said, simply by making one cadence echo another over two centuries, seems not much short of miraculous.
In my view Davie, a superb reader of poetry, was right about "Lollius". It is a biting satire which retains its edge today. Lloyd George and his Honours List are dead and gone, but knighthoods are still sold, a hundred years later.
The 'Honours system'
Grants of land, and the titles which went with them, were used by mediaeval Kings of England to secure the loyalty of their followers. The modern equivalent, in Kipling's day and now, is the 'honours system' by which the Crown - in effect the Prime-Minister of the day - awards knighthoods, titles of nobility, and membership of various Orders. These are much-prized.
David Lloyd George (1863-1945), one of the Georges mentioned in Stanza 6, came from a Welsh family of moderate means, and rose to be Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Liberal Government of 1908 - much execrated by Kipling - and Prime Minister of the wartime coalition, from 1916 to 1922.
He had faced down the House of Lords over the 'People's Budget' of 1909, and had little regard for the nobility, but this did not hold him back from selling honours; the going rate for a knighthood was £10,000, and for a baronetcy £40,000, the equivalent of over a million pounds in 2017. After the Honours (Prevention of Abuse) Act of 1925, such transactions were less brazenly conducted, but the award of honours in exchange for funding political parties has continued to this day, under both Conservative and Labour Governments.
Kipling and Horace
The Roman poet 'Horace' (Quintus Horatius Flaccus, 65-8 B.C.E.) published three books of Odes in 23 B.C.E. There was later a fourth book, of which the date is controversial, but which was probably circulated before he died. No Fifth Book of Odes has been recorded.
Kipling encountered him as a schoolboy, and wrote in Something of Myself (p.33) that C----, his classics master ('King' in Stalky & Co.):
...taught me to loath Horace for two years, to forget him for twenty, and then to love him for the rest of my days and through many sleepless nights.He wrote "Donec Gratus Eram" as a schoolboy, and a series of other 'echoes' of Horace in later life. He carried a copy of Horace’s four books of Odes around with him, in which he wrote original epigrams of his own.
From 1917 he began to experiment with his own versions of Horace. See Thomas Pinney (Ed.) Letters IV pp. 439-40. In 1920, he and a group of friends published Q. Horatii Flacci Carminum Liber Quintus (Horace, Book V) a collection of parodies in English and Latin. "Lollius" (Ode 13) was specially written for the book. There were, incidentally, a number of notable Romans of that name, but none seems to be clearly identifiable as Kipling's 'Lollius'. Perhaps he simply felt that the name had the right ring to it for a wealthy self-made man.
There are also two other poems by Kipling in the book: Ode 1 "A Translation" (collected as 'Ode 3' in A Diversity of Creatures, 1917), and Ode 6 "The Pro-Consuls" (collected in The Years Between, 1919). Others, in Debits and Credits (1926), are “The Portent”, “The Survival” and “The Last Ode.”.
For further background see Kipling's Horace by Charles Carrington, Susan Treggiari’s essay "Kipling and the Classical World". For a summary of useful sources, see "Kipling and Horace", written by David Page for The Kipling Journal in June 2003.
See also the excellent chapter ‘Horace’s Kipling’ in Horace Made new: Horation Influences on British Writing from the Renaissance to the Twentieth Century by Charles Martindale, Cambridge University Press 1993.
Notes on the text
nard An aromatic plant; in ancient times a source of perfume.
unmitigated Donald Davie writes: this is from the Latin mitis, meaning 'mild'. Here the meaning of 'mitigate' is the one which the Oxford English Dictionary notes as 'now rare' - 'To render (a person, etc.) milder; to appease, mollify'. Thus the one word, 'unmitigated', conveys that Lollius is the first of his family to be ennobled, and at the same time exposes contemptuously what it is that people get ennobled for, i.e. to be bought over, to have their fangs drawn.
trade in Afric corn North Africa, modern-day Tunisia and Libya, was a major source of grain for ancient Rome. A large part of the city's supply was obtained through the free market. Prices in the city were invariably high, and merchants could count on making a profit.
rude crude, rustic.
disgorge give forth.
the head of either George Jan Montefiore writes: This double allusion (which would have been obvious in 1919 though it’s obscure in 2017) is to (a) King George V and (b) Prime Minister Lloyd George, indicting the latter with corruption. (Cf the once popular ditty sung to the tune of ‘Onward, Christian soldiers’: ‘Lloyd George Knew My Father’) . I also think there’s a pun on ‘head’, alluding to the way British currency displays the current monarch’s head. [J.M.]
his house his family line of descent.
©John Radcliffe 2017 All rights reserved