(Notes edited by John Radcliffe, drawing on the work of Susan Treggiari Lisa Lewis and Mary Hamer, for notes on other poems by Kipling echoing Horace.)

the poem
[December 7th 2017]


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:
  • Definitive Verse (1940)
  • The Sussex Edition vol xxxv (1939)
  • The Burwash Edition vol xxviii (1941)
  • Cambridge Edition (2013) Ed. Thomas Pinney, p. 1397.

The poem

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, suggests the poet.

Critical comments

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.

One should bear in mind the political context of the book in which Kipling placed the poem. It isn’t only a jeu d’esprit (although it is that, too), Its editor A D Godley was an Oxford classics don, a witty writer of light verse, and a reactionary who hated everything to do with ‘progress’, including the admission of women to University degrees.

Everything I’ve ever read by Godley, including the very funny Ode ‘What is this that roareth thus? Can it be a Motor Bus? Yes, the smell and hideous hum/ Indicat Motorem Bum !’ etc etc ) is agin the modern world. Obviously the Kipling of 1919 would have found that very congenial. [See David Page's note cited below, for another example of Godley's verse.]

‘Lollius’ was singled out for praise as a reactionary satire by the late Donald Davie, a gifted critic and a man of the Right, albeit a highly intelligent one, in his otherwise highly critical essay "Thoughts on Kipling’s Recessional", in Essays in Dissent (Manchester, Carcanet, 1992), pp. 215– 25 (see KJ 358, Dec 2014).

In my view Davie, a superb reader of poetry, of excellent taste, 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. It may well have been aimed at a contemporary scandal about financiers buying their titles, which readers in 1920 would have been well aware of.

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 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

[Verse 1]

gird Jeer.

nard An aromatic plant; in ancient times a source of perfume.

[Verse 2]

unmitigated with no redeeming feature.

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.

[Verse 3]

rude crude, rustic.

[Verse 6]

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.]

[Verse 7]

his house his family line of descent.


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