"Pagett, M.P."

(notes edited
by John McGivering)

the poem

[December 14th 2010]


ORG Volume 8, page 5119, records the first appearance in the Pioneer of 16 June 1886. The poem was collected – with modifications in:
  • Departmental Ditties and Other Verses
  • Early Verse
  • Definitive Verse
  • Inclusive Verse
  • The Sussex Edition Volume 32, page 49
  • The Burwash Edition Volume 25
  • The Works of Rudyard Kipling, (Wordsworth Poetry Library)
See the notes to “The Enlightenments of Pagett, M. P."

Critical comments

Seymour-Smith (page 164) maintains that "Pagett M.P." in the story is not really the same invention as the one attacked in the poem. Indeed he may be right, for the 'Pagett' in the story, written four years later than the poem, who meets a succession of Indians and others with his old frienmd Orde, the Deputy Commissioner at 'Amara', is altogether a better informed and more pleasant character.

Notes on the text

[Heading] the toad beneath the harrow a proverbial saying for a sufferer, dating back to the 13th Century. A harrow is a heavy frame with spikes that is dragged across a field by horses or a tractor to cultivate the soil. A toad beneath it would not survive very long.

[Verse I] The Asian Solar Myth Philip Holbertron points out: in the 1880’s there was ongoing academic debate among mythographers. Some held that the gods of myth were memories of actual tribal heroes, while others said that they were personifications of forces of nature, especially the sun – hence “solar myths”.

In this context, however, it seems likely that Pagett, an M.P. rather than an academic, was simply making a sceptical reference to the Anglo-Indian belief in the dangers of the sun. He had, though, taken the trouble to arrive in November at the beginning of the cool season. See Kipling's "Two Months". in which "June" describes the horrors of Summer heat, and "September", carries the promise of Winter coming.

koil identified as the Indian bell-bird in a footnote. See also Hobson-Jobson page 490, under Koel.

Brahmin (the spelling varies) usually a member of a priestly caste but here used as a sarcastic reference to an important person.

[Verse 3]

punkah a fan operated by a man hauling on a rope. Mentioned in many of the Indian stories

coolies hired labourers.

prickly-heat See Dr. Sheehan’s Notes.

mosquitoes flies of the family Culicidae; the bite of the female often carries malaria. See Dr. Sheehan’s Notes.

sandflies a common name for minute biting insects - order Diptera, found in the tropical and subtropical parts of the world.

down with the sun Sunstroke See Dr. Sheehan’s Notes.

Liver Dr. Gillian Sheehan writes:

Alcohol is broken down in the liver. During Kipling's time in India congestion of the liver or too much blood in it with distension of part or all of the organ, was thought to be caused by overcrowding, sedentary lifestyle, sleeping during the daytime, too much food and drink, rich and hotly seasoned food, and stimulating liquors. In the tropics the principal cause was thought to be the climate - over exposure to the sun and excess sweating. Symptoms included depression of spirits, poor appetite, headache, nausea, irregular bowel motions and a sense of fullness in the right side.
Beer Dr Sheehan writes: I don't know if beer could be called a stimulating liquor. But Pagett blamed the beer. Possibly this was just showing his ignorance when he should have blamed the sun or the heat. [G. S.]

Fever See Dr. Sheehan’s Notes.

[Verse 5]

Dysent’ry See Dr. Sheehan’s Notes.

Chota Bursat the early rains (footnote).

[Verse 6]

Cholera Morbus Dr. Gillian Sheehan writes:

Cholera Morbus was also called English Cholera and occurred in England in the autumn after a hot summer and 'generally found to be more severe and universal when the different varieties of plum fruit are in abundance'. It was thought to be due to eating too much fruit that was not fully ripe. It was known that it was not contagious.

It was also thought to be caused by 'the sudden application of cold to the heated body; the presence of crude indigestible matter in the stomach such as the skins of gooseberries, cherries and other fruits, exposure to the cool night air especially after a sultry day, or anything that disturbs the biliary system'.

Symptoms: nausea, vomiting, griping pains, copious biliary evacuations, followed by vomiting of bile. Later on spasmodic contractions of the muscles and there is great heat and thirst and weak fluttering pulse. 'When very severe the surface becomes cold, the strength rapidly sinks, a clammy sweat breaks out, the face assumes a cadaverous dusky hue, hiccough supervenes, and a fatal collapse terminates the brief struggle.'
[Dictionary of Medical and Surgical Knowledge, Houlston and Wright, London, 1869]
seven years British children in India were usually sent home for education, and for their health, at the age of six or seven. See Something of Myself Chapters I and II, and “Baa Baa, Black Sheep” (Wee Willie Winkie).

[Verse 7

a hundred and twenty Fahrenheit nearly fifty degrees Celsius/Centigrade.

Court in this context a law-court.

[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2006 All rights reserved